Senator John Warner (R-VA) juxtaposed Donley’s statement that the Air Force’s procurement system was not “fatally flawed” with the GAO’s recent report of the procedure’s “significant errors” as the foundation for his examination of the nominee:
“To me, when you make a statement that it is not fatally flawed against a background of a lot of problems, I find a lot of disconnect.”Donley replied by reasserting that he did not see gross misconduct. Still, disagreements over the severity of the problems aside, Donley fully admitted that drastic changes needed to be made:
“While I do not believe the Air Force acquisition is fatally flawed, GAO’s findings are troubling. They indicate the need for changes that will ensure we are better prepared in the future to more fully document the details of source selections such that Air Force decisions will successfully withstand protests and thereby restore confidence in the acquisition process.”As a remedy, Donley suggested specific fixes intended to improve the system:
“I have directed the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Acquisition) to identify the lessons learned from the recent GAO decision on KC-X, and previous decisions in which protests were sustained, and outline a near-term plan for improvement that will strengthen the major program and source selection decisions pending for later this year. I also plan two 90-day reviews of the Air Force acquisition process, one internal and one external, to recommend opportunities for longer-term improvement.”Given the current state of Air Force procurement, and the reports that the Air Force has a closed mind going into the new tanker competition, Tanker War Blog believes only more house cleaning of personnel will ensure “longer-term improvement”.
There are just too many people in Air Force procurement who don't get how badly they failed or truly understand the dire consequences of having EADS think they somehow now deserve the tanker contract. More EU lobbying anyone?
Senator Hilary Clinton (D-NY) provided a poignant critique of the Air Force’s procurement system by questioning how Title 10, Subtitle A, PART IV, CHAPTER 144, § 2440 of the U.S. Civil Code, which requires the consideration of the US industrial base when granting contracts, was ignored during the tanker competition.
Donley lamely stated that it would be impossible to do so because “we live in a global economy,” adding that “attempting to go with U.S. sources only in particular situations where it seems to advantage one company over another is really a temporary perspective.”
His argument for not considering Title 10, especially in light of our country’s current economic situation, was quickly countered by Clinton.
She said her fear is that the decision to not consider Title 10 “will come back to haunt us” economically. She stated she was, "also extremely conscious of the impact of decisions made by our government with taxpayer dollars that undermines our competitiveness for the long run."
Not satisfied with Donley's answers, and running out of time to leave for a vote on the Senate floor, Clinton stated that she would submit further questioning for the record.
Another highlighted procurement controversy at the hearing was the Air Force's Senior Leader In-Transit Comfort Capsules. Senator McCaskill seized upon this as another example of a mindset that prizes appearance over mission, much like the Thundervision scandal.
There may be a KC-30 tanker connection to the this mindset as two of Australian A330 tankers will be converted to VIP planes. How much did ability to use the KC-30 in VIP mode influence the Air Force's decision? We will have to leave that to further investigation and another post.
In conclusion, while all the nominees preformed well, it was another bad day for Air Force procurement. It was also certainly no walk in the park for those being questioned, but unless some major issues arose in the closed session we see all of the nominations being eventually confirmed. Though, we do not rule out one of the nominations being put on hold until certain procument process assurances are given.
Here are some source documents and resources from the hearing:
Donley Prepared Testimony
Gen. McNabb Prepared Testimony
Below is a short Pentagon Channel news report on the hearing.