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Nations Struggle Over Scandal-Marked Air Force Tanker Deal

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Let's hope the Obama administration this week delayed its deadline for picking the next generation of Air Force tankers for good reason, as claimed -- not as a cave-in to those who want U.S. taxpayers to fund European jobs.

To kowtow to Europe's EADS and their mostly Republican U.S. allies for the wrong reasons would only hurt the U.S. economy and encourage scandalous conduct that's been occurring on both sides of the nearly decade-long EADS rivalry with Boeing over tanker contracts.

Talks this week between President Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy resulted in a Pentagon announcement March 31 that it would delay its deadline for bids 60 days until July 9 if desired by EADS, the acronym for European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co.

Obama said during a joint press conference March 30 in Washington that he promised Sarkozy that Defense Department decision-making would be "free and fair" because the U.S. wants to hold a transparent bidding process.

The contract's value officially is estimated at $35 billion, one of the largest in American history. But the value could be vastly higher because the contract winner gets vital momentum for similar deals with other nations around the world.

Political, financial and military leaders of five world powers are active at their highest levels. In addition to France's leader, Russia's Vladimir Putin, Germany's Angela Merkel and the United Kingdom's Gordon Brown are also interested in securing jobs from the U.S. contracts.

Boeing issued a statement April 1 denying any legitimate reason to extend the bidding past DOD's previous deadline May 10 to accommodate the Europeans. EADS has been pushing for a longer bidding process that might push final decision-making past mid-term U.S. elections.

In jockeying for an EADS victory that would create a large assembly factory in Alabama, the state's senior Republican Sen. Richard Shelby in February put a blanket hold on 70 top-level Obama federal appointments.

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Shelby disrupted the Obama administration as it entered a critical phase of its second year after numerous delays in appointments during the first year that are keeping holdovers in many key slots throughout government. In Alabama's middle district, for example, Leura Canary remains as U.S. attorney despite being one of the nation's most controversial "loyal Bushies" (the term comes from a former Bush DOJ chief of staff) targeting such key Democrats as Alabama's former Gov. Don Siegelman.

Later, Shelby backed off in blocking all Obama appointments after flexing his Senate muscle. As a countermeasure, the Obama administration just made 15 recess appointments to try to secure control of federal bureaucracy before too much more time passes.


U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby

But the political clock is ticking in other ways if EADS and its backers can nudge final Pentagon decision-making on July bids a few more weeks into the period after November's U.S. elections. Republicans are expected to gain far more congressional clout. At that point, the Republican mastery of Senate rules even when they're in the minority, combined with European financial muscle could threaten Boeing, which is no slouch itself in power politics in the United States and internationally.

Ensuring an award to EADS was a factor, according to my sources, behind two of the past decade's most notable federal corruption prosecutions, those of Siegelman and former Air Force Assistant Secretary Darleen Druyun. An independent review is the primary focus of my work with the start-up Justice Integrity Project.Prosecutors dispute any political motive in either investigation.

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In 2006, federal authorities working through Canary's office convicted Siegelman, regarded by my political sources as less adept than his Republican rival Bob Riley in the congressional and international clout needed to ensure an EADS victory and an Alabama reassembly plant.

Riley had been a leader in House military appropriations before narrowly defeating Siegelman in 2002 gubernatorial election. As a congressman and then as governor, Riley cultivated contacts with Russian raw material suppliers and France-based manufacturers who are major advocates of EADS.

Also, the federal authorities won a corruption conviction against Druyun, building on initial investigative work by Boeing's opponents in the competitive intelligence community. Earlier, Druyun had helped Boeing obtain highly favorable terms on Air Force tanker leases. She then received a $250,000 per year job at Boeing in 2003 after her retirement from the Air Force.

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Andrew Kreig is an investigative reporter, attorney, author, business strategist, radio host, and longtime non-profit executive based in Washington, DC. His most recent book is "Presidential Puppetry: Obama, Romney and Their Masters," the (more...)
 

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