GAO won’t throw out Boeing tanker appeal

WASHINGTON — The Government Accountability Office on Wednesday denied requests by Northrop Grumman and the Air Force seeking dismissal of an appeal by The Boeing Co. over the award of a lucrative tanker jet project to Northrop and Airbus parent EADS.But even this latest developed touched off a war of words between Northrop and Boeing.Northrop, in a statement, said the denials came after a supplemental filing by Boeing that “streamlined its original protest and eliminated many of the elements that were central to the Air Force and Northrop Grumman motions.”“Boeing’s decision to abandon the public relations rhetoric contained in its original protest filings is in keeping with our motion,” said Randy Belote, Northrop Grumman vice president of corporate and international communications. “We are encouraged that the company has streamlined its approach. We remain convinced that the Air Force process that led to Northrop Grumman’s selection was fair, open and transparent, and we look forward to assisting the Air Force defend its selection decision before the GAO.”Boeing issued a statement shortly after Northrop’s, saying it has not streamlined its original protest.“We have no idea of the basis of the Northrop Grumman statement,” Boeing said. “We continue to press every ground in our original appeal. We have neither abandoned nor narrowed any ground. In fact, our supplemental filings have added additional grounds to our original filing based on the information we have received from the Air Force since filing our protest on March 11. Any assertion to the contrary is a blatant attempt to misrepresent the facts.”On March 1, Boeing asked the GAO to overturn the contract award to the EADS-Northrop team. In motions filed with the GAO last week, Northrop Grumman and the Air Force asked the agency to dismiss elements of Boeing’s request.The agency has until mid-June to rule on Boeing’s complaint.Michael Golden, a GAO spokesman, declined to comment.The Air Force in February rejected a Boeing bid to build the new midair refueling tankers and instead chose a team of European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co. and Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman. The initial program is valued at around $35 billion but could grow to $100 billion. In its appeal to the GAO, Boeing accused the Air Force of switching airplane size requirements in the middle of the bidding contest. Initially, the service had sought bids for a medium-sized tanker but ended up picking a much larger aircraft, Boeing maintains.Boeing also alleged that the Air Force “repeatedly made fundamental but often unstated changes to the bid requirements and evaluation process” in an effort to keep the Airbus tanker in the competition.The EADS team, maintaining that it won the contract because its aircraft was superior, has denied Boeing’s charge that the Air Force stacked the deck in its favor.Northrop Grumman said that Boeing’s complaints are “untimely” and that the Chicago-based aerospace giant should have complained sooner in the process, not after the Air Force made the contract award.The issues Boeing has raised “should have been questioned, or perhaps protested, before Boeing submitted its final bid,” Northrop Grumman said.P-I aerospace reporter James Wallace can be reached at 206-448-8040 or Read his Aerospace blog at