Monday, June 23, 2008

McCain on defensive over Air Force tanker contract

WASHINGTON: John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, is fending off charges that he pushed the U.S. Air Force into a faulty $35 billion deal for midair refueling planes.

Democrats weighed in after the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan arm of Congress, found last week that the air force had made "significant errors that could have affected the outcome of what was a close competition" between Boeing and a combination of Northrop Grumman and European Aerospace & Defense Systems, or EADS, which was awarded the contract.

The Democratic National Committee accused McCain of "mimicking" EADS, the corporate parent of Airbus, Boeing's rival, "every step of the way" in shaping the competition for the contract.

"In reality, Senator McCain intervened at key steps in the process, echoing the arguments of the EADS/Airbus consortium each time," the Democratic Party headquarters said.

The senator from Arizona, it asserted in a follow-up statement, "helped steer a tanker contract to a European company for which seven of his campaign advisers and fund-raisers then lobbied."

McCain has argued that his actions were aimed exclusively at promoting a fair and open bidding process.

"My paramount concern in the tanker replacement program has always been that the air force buy the most capable aerial refueling tankers at the most reasonable cost," he said in a statement after the Government Accountability Office, or GAO, found fault with the process of awarding the contract. "Obviously they need to go back and redo the contracting process again, the awarding of it, and I hope that this time they will get it right."

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama, applauded the GAO recommendation and called for the air force to reopen the tanker competition.

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