(WASHINGTON)—The U.S. Air Force on Tuesday adamantly denied suggestions by union officials that the White House influenced the selection of Boeing Co to build 179 aerial refueling planes for up to $30 billion.
"There was absolutely nothing inside the competition," Air Force acquisition chief David Van Buren told reporters after a Credit Suisse conference.
"Anywhere we had a chance to speak to this administration, we did," Michalski said on a conference call with reporters after the contract announcement. "He listened to the people, and he understood this $35 billion in defense funds will be put to good use."
Van Buren said the Air Force signed a contract with Boeing last week.
The losing bidder EADS, the European parent of Boeing's arch rival Airbus, has until March 7 to file a protest against the decision with the congressional Government Accountability Office, Van Buren told the conference.
But he said Air Force and Pentagon officials were confident that the competition had been handled fairly.
He said he was "very proud" of the way the program office had handled the competition -- the Air Force's third attempt since 2001 to begin replacing its aging fleet of KC-135 tankers, which were built by Boeing nearly 50 years ago.
He declined to give any details about the difference in price between the Boeing and EADS bids, calling that information proprietary, but said Boeing's 767-based tanker was the "clear choice" given that the bids were more than 1 percent apart.
"It was a very objective assessment," Van Buren said.
EADS and Boeing received separate briefings from the Air Force on Monday.
EADS spokesman Guy Hicks said the company is evaluating the information it received from the Air Force, but gave no indication if the debriefing would spur EADS to file a protest.
European officials last week said EADS was unlikely to protest given its desire to keep a foothold in the U.S. defense market and avoid angering U.S. defense officials.
But the union official's comments raised concerns about whether the source selection process was politicized, said one industry source closely following the issue.
(Editing by Gerald E. McCormick)