Email: Air Force Secretary Wants to "Stay With" Boeing for CSAR-X
This March, Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne told Lt. General John L. "Jack" Hudson in an email that "I would like to stay with our selection" of Boeing's HH-47 Chinook helicopter for the combat search and rescue helicopter replacement (CSAR-X), according to a protest filing by rival defense contractor Sikorsky. Lt. General Hudson is in charge of selecting the company that receives the contract for the CSAR-X. Wynne's statement came after the Government Accountability Office (GAO) sustained procurement protests by rivals Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin, and Congress began to scrutinize the CSAR-X program's selection of the Chinook last November.
In February, the GAO ruled that the Air Force's evaluation of each proposal's costs was not made according to the evaluation criteria made in the contract solicitation. GAO recommended that the Air Force clarify its basis for evaluations and request revised proposals from the competing contractors. The Air Force released an amendment to its CSAR-X request for proposals in May, but has been met with additional protests by Lockheed Martin and Sikorsky for not addressing the problems found by GAO. The March 3, 2007, email appears to affirm the view of some insiders that the Air Force's response to the GAO is simply a face-saving measure.
Sikorsky quoted Secretary Wynne's email in its July 2, 2007, protest of the Air Force's amended solicitation, which POGO has obtained. Sikorsky obtained the email and other documents from the Air Force, which was responding to Sikorsky's legal actions, according to the protest filing. POGO does not have a copy of the email itself, so it is possible that necessary context has been left out. On its face, however, the partial quote does raise questions about the Air Force's commitment to a fair and transparent evaluation.
Wynne's email seems consistent with his answers to reporters after his February 28, 2007, congressional testimony before the House Armed Services Committee that he would "like to stay with what we got [referring to the Boeing HH-47] and get this product going as soon as possible." He also stated that the Air Force is considering whether it can take corrective action "more narrowly" than what GAO had recommended, according to a Reuters article (Andrea Shalal-Esa, "U.S. Air Force wants no long delay on new helicopter," February 28, 2007).
"Either the Air Force is serious about fairly and transparently re-evaluating a bungled competition, or they're wasting everyone's time," said POGO Defense Investigator Nick Schwellenbach, who had been investigating the CSAR-X program. "When coupled with the evaluation inconsistencies pointed out by Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin, this email seems to indicate the latter."
Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.