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Saturday, October 09, 2004

Warner-McCain colloquy

From Oct. 9:

Mr. McCain: Mr. President, I would like to review with my colleague Section 133 of the Ronald W. Reagan National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005. Under the leadership of Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Warner and Ranking Member Levin, Congress has agreed to amend Section 135 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004, by expressly prohibiting the Air Force from using previously granted authority to acquire, through a lease or purchase, Boeing 767 aircraft for use as aerial refueling tankers.

This provision succeeds in accomplishing Chairman Warner’s primary objective, as he stated in this chamber on October 23, 2003, to put the tanker replacement program back into a traditional budget, procurement, and authorization track. In other words, the Air Force’s program to modernize its tanker fleet must be subject to the aerial refueling analysis of alternatives, the aerial refueling portion of the Mobility Capabilities Study, a new aerial refueling validated capabilities document and operational requirements document in accordance with all applicable Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Instructions, and the express approval of a Defense Acquisition Board in full accordance with Department of Defense regulations.

Mr. Warner: The Senator from Arizona is correct. Section 133 specifically revokes the authority previously granted under Section 8159 of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2002, to the Air Force to lease aircraft for use as tankers. The conferees expressed their intent very strongly on this issue in eliminating all references to leasing aircraft throughout Section 135.

Mr. McCain: Mr. Chairman, thank you for clarifying the intent of the legislation with respect to the prohibition on leasing tanker aircraft. Now, let’s turn to what authority Section 133 grants with respect to purchase of tanker aircraft.

Mr. Warner: Section 133 bars the Air Force from executing a contract for the multiyear purchase of aircraft specified under Section 8159, that is, general purpose Boeing 767 aircraft that would be modified as an aerial refueling aircraft. Section 8159 would have precluded full and open competition.

Mr. McCain: The Chairman is correct. This means that, under Section 133, the Air Force may not acquire, either by lease or purchase, Boeing 767s without full and open competition. In other words, any program to acquire tankers must start from the beginning, as you properly stated last year, on a traditional budget, procurement, and authorization track.

Mr. Warner: The Senator from Arizona is correct. I thank him for that clarification.

Mr. McCain: One last question, Mr. Chairman. Have we obtained an opinion from the Congressional Budget Office as to how it would score the acquisition of tankers under Section 133?

Mr. Warner: Yes, we have. The Congressional Budget Office would score this provision as a traditional procurement program which would expressly require the Air Force to pay for each tanker in the year it is purchased.

Mr. McCain: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I am grateful to the gentleman from Virginia for his leadership in this 3-year odyssey. I remind my colleagues that three out of the four defense committees that were required to approve the original proposal to lease 100 tankers, did so without so much as reading the contract for that $30 billion procurement proposal. It was the Senate Armed Services Committee that put the brakes on that costly and misguided misadventure. That having been said, the final chapter on the tanker lease program cannot be closed until those among Air Force leadership who engaged in misconduct, are held accountable.

Mr. Warner: I thank the gentleman from Arizona for his steadfast leadership and vigilance on this critical issue. There could be no doubt as to the gentleman’s sincerity in always protecting the interests of taxpayers and the warfighter.