WASHINGTON Feb 17 The Pentagon's internal
watchdog agency is unlikely to investigate a data mix-up in the
$35 billion U.S. aerial tanker competition between Boeing Co
(BA.N) and Europe's EADS EAD.PA, sources familiar with the
issue said on Thursday.
A decision to skip an investigation about the Air Force's
inadvertent release of data to the competitors could pave the
way for a tanker contract award by the U.S. Air Force sometime
in the next two to three weeks, possibly as early as Feb. 25.
Senator Maria Cantwell, a Washington state Democrat, and
six other senators who are backing Boeing's tanker bid, asked
the Pentagon's inspector general last month to investigate
whether the "clerical error" would mar the already politically
Air Force officials insist the data mix-up last November
was unintentional and involved no pricing data that could have
comprised the procurement.
The inspector general's office will soon notify the
senators that it will not investigate the issue, according to
two sources who were not authorized to speak publicly.
Officials at the Air Force and inspector general's office
The senators' offices also had no immediate comment.
The high-stakes competition has fanned trans-Atlantic
tensions and jockeying among U.S. lawmakers eager to bring jobs
to their states.
A bipartisan group of senators backing Boeing's bid, which
is based on its 767 airliner, held a news conference at the
Capitol on Thursday to highlight the jobs that would be created
in their home states if Boeing won the competition.
Loren Thompson, an analyst with the Lexington Institute,
called the data mix-up issue a "tempest in a tea pot."
"There is no evidence that the inadvertent leaking of
competition-sensitive information to the wrong teams was
anything other than a clerical error," he said. "The IG needs
some sort of evidence to justify an investigation and that
simply doesn't exist."
Boeing and EADS submitted final bids on Feb. 11.
Defense consultant Jim McAleese said he estimated that both
companies submitted bids that were five to 10 percent lower
than the production costs included in the previous
Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale told reporters this week
that the Air Force was requesting nearly $900 million for the
tanker program in fiscal 2012, and expected to award a contract
in "a month or so."
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa)