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Top acquisition official: Tanker acquisition top priority

by Staff Sgt. Monique Randolph
Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

7/21/2008 - WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- Officials from the Government Accountability Office testified before Congress July 10 here about their decision to uphold Boeing's protests of the Air Force's selection of Northrop Grumman Corp. to produce 179 new tankers that would replace the aging KC-135 Stratotanker fleet.

In its report, GAO officials stated that errors had been made during the acquisition process that could have affected the outcome of the close competition between the two companies, but did not find evidence of intentional wrongdoing by Air Force officials.

"We didn't see an iota of evidence that there was intentional wrongdoing, no evidence of bias, no evidence of criminality," said Daniel I. Gordon, the deputy general counsel for the GAO during the hearing.

Following the Department of Defense's subsequent decision to reopen the bidding process, the Air Force's top acquisitions officer said she is optimistic the proposals will only get better, and both the taxpayer and warfighter will benefit from the new tanker.

"Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has made the tanker acquisition a top priority, and I applaud that," said Sue C. Payton, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition at the Pentagon. If we can get cooperation with all the parties, we should be able to award (the contract) in December or January."

Ms. Payton credits members of the Air Force acquisitions team with helping to build such strong proposals from both companies.

"Over the past two years, I saw the most honest, dedicated, hard-working individuals I've ever worked with in more than 30 years," she said. "We shared more information and opened the door for more questions from the offerors than ever before. Acquisitions have extensive regulations, legislative considerations and rules of fair play. It's extremely complex, very competitive and high stakes."

Of more than 100 issues raised in Boeing's protest, eight were sustained by the GAO, she said.

"When the GAO finds fault, it doesn't mean your (organization) is fatally flawed," Ms. Payton said.

The tanker is one of 35 major defense acquisition efforts currently in the works for the Air Force and Ms. Payton said she looks forward to leading those efforts.

"There is still much to accomplish," she said.

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