Gates Takes Tanker Project away from Air Force

This afternoon, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that in a highly unusual decision, he has taken the authority to award the controversial air refueling tanker contract away from the Air Force and has reassigned it to Undersecretary of Defense (Acquisition, Technology and Logistics) John Young. Young will head a new team of procurement evaluators to make the decision between Boeing and Airbus aircraft.

In a very significant – and wise – move, Gates said that the old "source selection advisory committee" and "source selection executive" would both be replaced. It was another kick in the pants that Gates has delivered to the Air Force, having fired Air Force Secretary Michael Wynn and Air Force Chief of Staff T. Mike Moseley earlier this year, purportedly for other reasons.

Young also announced that there would be a new competition based on a revised government request for proposals, modified to accommodate the Government Accountability Office’s decision which was highly critical of the Air Force actions in selecting the Northrop Grumman/EADS proposal offering the European Airbus 330 aircraft.

Gates and Young indicated it was their plan that a new solicitation would be published quickly and new proposals submitted and evaluated by December 2008. That seems an all-too-optimistic schedule given the complexity of the matter.

There will be a hearing before a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee tomorrow afternoon at which Young, Air Force Acquisition chief Sue Payton and GAO lawyers will testify.