|Gov. Samuel D. Brownback (R)|
In a November 22 press conference a Kansas congressman and his governor voiced their sense of betrayal after Boeing announced it was stepping away from plans to finish the Air Force’s next tanker aircraft in Wichita.
“I dare say, I don’t think Boeing would have gotten this bid if the push hadn’t happened so aggressively from Kansas’ delegation,” said Kansas Gov. Samuel D. Brownback (R), who represented the state first as a congressman in 1995, and then as a senator from 1996 to 2011.
At issue is the $35 billion AC-46 aerial tanker program that was hotly contested between Boeing and Airbus, the European consortium, which had been assumed to be centered at the company’s Wichita facility—until the company stated November 21 that it is studying the viability of keeping the facility open at all, he said. The contract was awarded in February.
Boeing said it its statement it was forced to consider closing the facility because of the shrinking defense budget, poor economic conditions and its hesitation to renew contracts that have expired or are close to expiring.
“We are in the process of engaging key stakeholders—including customers, government officials and union representatives—to share this information as we continue to have open and candid discussions about the challenges we face in the current budget and economic environment. Among the options being reviewed is the potential closure of the Wichita site,” the company statement said. The study is scheduled to finish by the end of 2012.
Joining the call with Brownback was Rep. Michael R. Pompeo (R.-Kansas), who said that for the last 10 years, first as a supplier to Boeing, when he owned Thayer Aerospace, and since January as a member of Congress, he has worked to support Boeing’s bid for what is the largest contract ever awarded in American military history.
Brownback said the federal delegation and state leadership from Alabama threw their support behind the Airbus-bid, which would have led to the bulk of the project’s jobs going to that state.
“It was a tough competition. It went up and down three different times,” he said.
“At one time, it was awarded to Airbus and that was squibbed by the GAO,” he said.
Both men said that as they heard rumors of the study and the likelihood of the facility closing, they tried to reach out to Boeing leadership, specifically the CEO W. James McNerney Jr.
In every case, up until the press conference, none of their calls were accepted or returned, they said.
A company spokesman said there in fact had been conversations.
Brownback said there was a deal.
Kansas delegation and leadership fought for Boeing with the understanding from Boeing that the bulk of those jobs, roughly 7,500, would be filled through the ramp up of the company’s finishing center at Wichita, the governor said.
Pompeo said, “When they made that commitment, it was not contingent on any factor.”
There was no mention of their doing a study first, he said.
“What the Boeing company said was: ‘We are going to put the jobs in Kansas—and that is hugely important to the 7,500 jobs in Kansas.’”
It was also the understanding of Air Force personnel involved in the contracting process that having the jobs in Kansas were organic to the bid, he said.
“It is my expectation that the Boeing company will honor that commitment,” the congressman said.
“We in the federal delegation look forward to working with them.”