Technology with attitude

McCain Should Get Credit, Not Blame for Tanker Deal

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Back in 2004/2005, as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, John McCain helped bust up a corrupt deal between Boeing and the U.S. Air Force that would have cost tax payers a bundle for what could have been an inferior tanker plane. Several people ended up in jail and there is no dispute that the deal was underhanded.

Now, McCain is getting blamed because the tanker deal recently went to Airbus, Boeing’s European competitor. Not only did McCain scuttle the earlier deal but he doggedly kept after the bidding procedures to ensure the American people got the best product for the best cost. He did not have any say as to which company won the bid and is not accused of influencing the Air Force’s decision.

However, because the plane won’t be built in America by American workers, McCain is being painted as the villain. The fact that a few of his advisors are former lobbyists for Airbus’ parent company EADS, doesn’t help McCain. But there is absolutely no evidence that McCain was looking to hurt Boeing or help Airbus. There are not many companies capable of making a military tanker plane and, by all accounts, McCain just wanted to keep corruption out of the bidding process so that the Air Force could get the best plane. The fact that a few former EADS lobbyists are now McCain advisors proves little – particularly when you consider how, in Washington, most advisors/consultants move freely between working for politicians and working for lobbying groups. That may be a problem in general but it doesn’t appear to be a problem in this specific case.

As long as we are going to allow foreign companies to bid on production of certain military vehicles, we should demand that the process is fair. McCain did the very hard work to achieve just that. Now he’s getting blamed because the Air Force decided that Airbus was able to design a better plane at a better cost than was Boeing. In my mind, McCain did the country a service by uncovering the corruption in the original deal and ensuring the final deal was the best one possible for the tax payer and the Air Force.

Blame our policy of allowing foreign companies to bid on our military projects. But don’t blame McCain for ensuring the current system is used fairly.