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Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said the GAO decision “represents a major victory for American workers and taxpayers, and brings us one step closer to ensuring this contract is not sent overseas.”

Boeing said its tanker proposal would support 44,000 new and existing jobs at the company and more than 300 U.S. suppliers. But Northrop-EADS estimates that its deal will support 48,000 U.S. jobs, including more than 1,500 new positions in Mobile, Ala., where the tanker would be assembled.

Sen. Richard C. Shelby, Alabama Republican, expressed incredulity over the GAO’s findings.

“I cannot believe that in the most highly scrutinized procurement in the history of the United States Air Force, the GAO found so many errors,” he said. “The fact that the Air Force will likely have to go back to square one on the war fighter’s No. 1 priority is very disturbing.”

Northrop Grumman spokesman Randy Belote said company officials “respect the GAO’s work in analyzing the Air Force’s tanker acquisition process” but that they “continue to believe that Northrop Grumman offered the most modern and capable tanker for our men and women in uniform.”

“We will review the GAO findings before commenting further.”

The lobbying effort for both proposals has been intense, which each bidder touting their proposals in newspaper and trade publication advertisements nationwide.

Several strategists and fundraisers for Sen. John McCain have lobbied on behalf of the Northrop-EADS proposal, causing the Republican presumptive presidential nominee to spend months defending himself from accusations that he weighed in on behalf of the European-lead bid.

Mr. McCain, who has insisted that he did nothing to influence the outcome of the contract, said yesterday that the Air Force should “carefully consider the GAO’s decision and implement its recommendations as quickly as, and to the fullest extent, possible.”

“My paramount concern on 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.

Boeing designed a tanker based on its 767, while Northrop-EADS based its plane on the larger Airbus A330.

The Northrop-EADS team said its plan was more technologically advanced than Boeing’s proposed aircraft, was less costly and better fit the Air Force’s list of requirements. Boeing said the Northrop-EADS deal would cost American jobs, had hidden costs and would pose a natural security risk by relying heavily on foreign suppliers.

The Air Force conceded last week that, given that increase in maintenance costs for the Northrop-EADS plane, Boeing’s proposal would be cheaper.