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Letter to David Walker, Comptroller General of the Government Accountability Office, Re: Questions About National Security Impact of the High Cost of Fuel and Need to Maintain Critical Skills in U.S.

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Prompted by Air Force's Northrop Grumman/EADS Decision, Cantwell Raises Questions About National Security Impact of the High Cost of Fuel and Need to Maintain Critical Skills in U.S.

Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) sent the following letter to David Walker, Comptroller General of the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO), asking them to investigate and report to Congress on whether the Air Force is sufficiently considering lifecycle operating costs, the national security impact of the high cost of fuel, and the need to maintain critical skills vital to national security and a strong industrial base when making its procurement decisions.



[The text of the letter follows below]


March 25, 2008

The Honorable David M. Walker
Comptroller General of the United States
Government Accountability Office
441 G Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20548

Dear Mr. Walker:

The U.S. Air Force's February 29, 2008 selection of Northrop Grumman/EADS as the winner of the KC-X competition for development and procurement of the next generation refueling tanker gives rise to critical implications for the national security of the United States and raises questions regarding the optimal utilization of taxpayer dollars. The purpose of this letter is to request that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) undertake an investigation and report to Congress on whether the Air Force is sufficiently considering lifecycle operating costs, the national security impact of the high cost of fuel, and the need to maintain critical skills vital to national security when making its procurement decisions.

Consideration of Lifecycle Operating Costs: The Air Force consumes more than half of all the fuel the U.S. government uses each year and aviation fuel accounts for more than 80 percent of the Air Force's total energy bill. In 2006, the service spent more than $5.8 billion on jet fuel, more than twice the amount spent in 2003. Rapidly rising fuels costs have already reportedly increased the Air Force's operating costs forcing them to cut back on training flights and increase the use of simulators.

We are concerned the Air Force's evaluation of the refueling tanker proposals may have not given significant attention and weight to the lifetime operating costs associated with fuel consumption and the relative efficiencies of the Boeing KC-767 tanker versus the larger Northrop Grumman/EADS proposal. Over decades of service life, even small differences in operating and maintenance expenses can dramatically change the relative lifecycle operating costs of these tankers.

Specifically, we request that you respond to the following questions:

* Does the U.S. Air Force sufficiently consider the lifecycle operating and maintenance costs, especially with respect to potentially high and volatile future fuel costs, in making its military aircraft procurement decisions? Specifically, what fuel cost assumptions did the Air Force use in evaluating the tanker proposals? How do these assumptions compare to current, prevailing forecasts regarding global petroleum market volatility and prices? Moreover, what real-world operational assumptions did the Air Force use in evaluating the tanker proposals in the area of fuel efficiency? Given the fact that historical data indicates tankers typically do not dispense all of their available fuel and do not carry large cargo loads, what mission assumptions did the Air Force use for assessing fuel efficiency for both the tanking and airlift missions?

* Does the U.S. Air Force sufficiently consider ancillary costs associated with the decision to procure one type of plane versus another? For example, certain procurement decisions may necessitate upgrades to military runways or changes to operation practices that may increase overall costs.


National Security Impact of High Fuel Costs: At some point, the ever increasing cost of fuel and Air Force budgetary constraints may limit the Air Force's operational flexibility. Given limited resources and the potential for continued conflicts around the globe, this issue negatively impacts the United States' unique capability of projecting air power throughout the world and ultimately our national security.

We request that GAO investigate and report on the following:

* Is the U.S. Air Force sufficiently considering the national security impact of rising fuel costs, the resulting possible constraints on operations, and the potential benefits of increased fuel efficiency in making procurement decisions such as the KC-X?

* Does the U.S. Air Force sufficiently consider which aircraft provide the greatest operational flexibility across a broad range of missions? For example, does is make sense to purchase a bigger refueling tanker even though historically the average tankers only offloads a fraction of its carrying capacity, even during combat operations?

* Is the ability to utilize existing worldwide runways, ramps, hangers, and other infrastructure taken into adequate consideration when measuring overall fuel efficiency?


Maintaining Critical Skills Vital to National Security: We believe that ensuring our nation's highly skilled domestic workforce and industrial base remain strong for future military needs is a key component of our national security strategy.

Specifically, we request that you respond to the following questions:

* Does the U.S. Air Force sufficiently consider the national security impact of losing critical skills in the U.S. workforce, particularly in the manufacturing sector? To what extent was this criteria taken into consideration when awarding the refueling tanker contract to Northrop Grumman/EADS given that the bulk of manufacturing of the KC-30 will occur overseas?

* Does the U.S. Air Force sufficiently consider the national security benefits of maintaining domestic labor, technology, skill, and know-how in the development and manufacturing of military equipment?


These matters are of urgent concern and interest to many members of Congress and we hope that you will give this request the highest priority and provide a response within thirty days.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter.


Sincerely,


Sens. Maria Cantwell and Sam Brownback


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