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Senators call for contract probe

  |   Feb. 2, 2011 at 7:07 PM
WASHINGTON, Feb. 2 (UPI) -- Seven U.S. senators say they want the Pentagon to investigate a data leak in the bidding process for a $35 billion contract to build tanker aircraft.

They say they are troubled the Air Force allegedly mistakenly shared sensitive bidding data with Europe's EADS, parent company of Airbus, rival to Chicago-based Boeing Co., Crain's Chicago Business reported.

"From the beginning, we believe the Air Force has attempted to minimize its mistake," said a Jan. 27 letter to the Pentagon's inspector general. "It is imperative that the bidding process is conducted on a completely level playing field, and that all potential issues that could unfairly impact the competition have been thoroughly investigated."

Late last year, the Air Force sent each company an estimate of how many of that company's tankers would be needed to fly a number of missions. That estimate is an important part of the bidding process, affecting the bid price of each tanker.

But in a giant mistake, each company also received a computer disk with its competitor's estimated information. Boeing allegedly caught the error and returned the data quickly without peeking at it, while an EADS official scanned the data briefly before returning the disk, the Senate heard in Air Force testimony last week.

The defense contact is one of the biggest in United States history, awarding the winner the prize and responsibility of replacing the country's wildly outdated tanker fleet.

The request for the investigation comes just shy of the contract being awarded, the publication said.

Boeing said Tuesday it plans to file its final offer Feb. 11.

Spokesmen for Boeing, EADS and the Air Force did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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