Air Force "Inconsistent" In Awarding Boeing Chopper Contract

GAO says Air Force should reopen talks with all competitors.

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Air Force was ''inconsistent'' in its requirements when it awarded a $15 billion contract to Boeing Co. to build military helicopters, shutting out two other companies, the auditing arm of Congress said.

The Government Accountability Office said Monday that the Air Force should reopen discussions with all competitors and request revised proposals. The GAO's decision is nonbinding.

Chicago-based Boeing beat out rivals Lockheed Martin Corp. and Sikorsky Aircraft in November for the contract to build 141 helicopters by 2019 for the Air Force's fleet of rescue aircraft, which are used to recover downed pilots. The company said it would build the helicopters at its plant in Ridley Park, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia.

The GAO said the Air Force's evaluation of each company's bid was ''inconsistent'' with what was in the initial solicitation. Lockheed and Sikorsky Aircraft, a unit of United Technologies Corp., both filed protests over the contract award.

Some industry and Wall Street analysts had predicted the contract would go to Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed. Its version had a roomier cabin and three powerful engines and was cheaper than Boeing's. The Boeing version was a modified version of its CH-47 Chinook helicopter.

The contract has been on hold while the GAO reviewed the matter.

The Air Force did not immediately respond Monday to a request for comment. It has 60 days to respond to the GAO.

Rep. Joe Sestak, a Pennsylvania Democrat, said he met with Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne two weeks ago on the matter, and Wynne ''told me that he feels very strongly that the proper process was followed in determining the winner.''

Sestak, a retired Navy vice admiral, said he is talking to the Air Force, GAO and Boeing to try to ensure that Boeing keeps the contract.

If a second review by the Air Force concludes that Boeing is no longer best for the contract, it should terminate the contract, the GAO said.

Joseph LaMarca Jr., a Boeing spokesman, said the company is reviewing the GAO recommendation, but it still believes its bid provides the best value to the Air Force. The company has put on hold hiring about 200 new engineers to work on the contract at the Pennsylvania plant.

Both Lockheed and Connecticut-based Sikorsky issued statements praising the GAO's recommendation.

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