How a Defense Contract Is Won

NYT's Boeing report left out the lobbying

You’re a giant aerospace company pursuing a defense contract potentially worth $100 billion: so, what’s your lobbying budget for that?

A tip of the hat to the National Journal for detailing for readers how a years-long battle between Boeing and European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS) for a lucrative contract to supply the Air Force with aerial refueling tankers (awarded, last week, to Boeing) “highlights Washington’s expensive influence game.”

First, the National Journal offered some (sad) history:

The Air Force has been trying to award the contract since 2001, but a surreal mix of outright criminality, corruption, and government incompetence derailed the two prior attempts to finalize a deal to replace the military’s aging fleet of tankers, which are used to refuel jets, bombers, and other planes in mid-flight.

Then, on to those lobbying budgets:

The statistics from the Center for Responsive Politics provide vivid evidence of how [Boeing] and [EADS] began to sharply increase their lobbying expenditures in 2007, when the Air Force opened the troubled program to new bids. The contract was initially awarded to a joint bid from EADS and Northrop Grumman in 2008, but Boeing successfully appealed the decision to the Government Accountability Office, setting off nearly three more years of heated and expensive debate on Capitol Hill.

Boeing, for instance, saw its political expenses jump from $10.6 million in 2007 to more than $17.5 million in 2008, while EADS increased its own spending from $2.48 million in 2007 to more than $4.52 million in 2008, according to the center.

Much of the money has gone to a veritable who’s who of well-connected retired lawmakers. EADS employs former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss. and former House Appropriations Chairman Bob Livingston, R-La. Boeing’s lobbyists include former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., and Tony Podesta, whose brother John helped run the Obama administration’s transition effort and maintains close ties to the White House.

Boeing and EADS have also worked to steer money to individual lawmakers from the states that stood to gain the most jobs depending on which firm won the massive tanker contract…

The military’s decade-long push to replace its tankers will now move to Capitol Hill, where lawmakers will have to decide whether to ratify Boeing’s award, rescind it, or divide it between the two companies.

Readers come away with a full, if depressing, picture of how two companies vied for a hefty defense contract in what became, in the Journal’s telling, “one of Washington’s longest-running and most contentious lobbying wars.” Politico, too, led with lobbying (“millions spent” in a “bitter battle”) in its report on the tanker contract. The Washington Post mentioned, in passing, “contentious jockeying and millions of dollars spent on advertising and lobbying by the two companies” (and another mention, further along, of “fierce lobbying” involved), but provided no details or dollar figures. And the New York Times? No mention of lobbying at all.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR. Tags: , , , ,