- The Washington Times - Friday, April 3, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - Republican Sen. Richard Shelby is holding up President Barack Obama’s pick to lead Pentagon acquisitions because he wants assurances that the nominee won’t change the bidding criteria in a heated competition for a $35 billion refueling tanker contract.

Shelby and other Alabama lawmakers are worried the Pentagon might award the contract based strictly on price without considering additional capabilities.

They have a stake in the fight because Northrop Grumman Corp. would assemble the plane in Mobile, Ala. The company is offering a larger, more expensive plane than its competitor, Boeing Co.

Shelby alone can’t block the nomination of Ashton Carter as a Defense Department undersecretary, but he can delay his confirmation.

Rep. Norman Dicks, a Democrat from Washington, where Boeing would build much of the plane, quickly called on Shelby to withdraw his hold on the nomination, saying it would delay moving ahead with new bidding.

The Pentagon has tried and failed for seven years to award the contract to replace its aging fleet of current tankers that refuel military planes in flight. Some of the planes are nearly 50 years old, and senior defense officials have said they need to be replaced soon.

In 2004, Boeing lost the contract amid an ethics scandal that resulted in prison terms for a former senior company official and a former high-ranking Air Force official. Northrop, which is teaming with Airbus parent European Aeronautic Defense and Space Co., was awarded the contract earlier this year. But bidding was reopened after a Government Accountability Office report found flaws with the Air Force’s decision.


Associated Press Writer Donna Borak contributed to this report.

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