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Originally published November 30, 2010 at 7:12 PM | Page modified December 1, 2010 at 12:50 PM

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Air Force scrambled to fix tanker information mix-up

After an Air Force mix-up that sent Boeing and EADS computer disks with crucial data on each other's bid for the air refueling tanker contract, Boeing initially was left at a disadvantage, contrary to previous reports.

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

After an Air Force mix-up sent Boeing and EADS computer disks with crucial data on each other's bid for the air-refueling tanker contract, Boeing initially was left at a disadvantage, contrary to previous reports.

The Air Force then had to scramble to level the playing field in the $40 billion competition.

When Boeing tanker-team officials got the errant disk last month, they recognized from the labeling that the disk was intended for EADS, and did not open it.

But their EADS counterparts did open the disk they received and looked at a spreadsheet of data on the mission performance of the Boeing 767 tanker, Air Force Col. Les Kodlick confirmed Tuesday.

Only afterward did the EADS reviewers realize the error. They then contacted the Air Force and returned the disk.

"EADS opened Boeing's spreadsheet. Boeing did not look at the EADS spreadsheet," said Kodlick.

To ensure that neither side could claim bias, he said, the Air Force then sent the corresponding spreadsheet data on EADS' Airbus A330 tanker to Boeing and gave EADS back the spreadsheet on the Boeing tanker.

With that action, Kodlick said, the Air Force believes it has minimized the impact of what it described as "a clerical error."

"Providing each company that same type of information equalized the playing field," said Kodlick. "EADS got Boeing's information and Boeing got EADS', and they do now have that."

Previously the Air Force had said only that both sides had "the same information," but it didn't divulge details.

The disks sent to each manufacturer contained other files, but the Air Force believes only the performance analysis spreadsheet was accessed.

Kodlick said that an independent forensic computer analysis was done to confirm exactly what data files Boeing and EADS had viewed.

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The forensic analysis "verified and is consistent with what both offerers said they did," he said.

Boeing has requested access to the outcome of that analysis, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. That suggests Boeing is gathering all information that might be relevant to any protest of the eventual outcome.

Kodlick declined to comment on whether Boeing had asked the Air Force to see that analysis.

"We're being prudent in what we say so we don't compromise the source-selection process," he said.

The Air Force asserts the data inadvertently provided to the two players in the $40 billion tanker competition was not proprietary, meaning it was not data belonging to either Boeing or EADS.

"It was government-created and derived information, not proprietary to either offerer," said Kodlick.

But that doesn't mean the switch involved innocuous information.

Each disk contained an Air Force spreadsheet quantifying the effectiveness of one proposed tanker in a series of mission simulations.

An Air Force computer model for various mission scenarios works out how many airplanes of the proposed type would be needed for each mission, where they would be based, how far they would have to fly, and how well they could meet the fuel demands of the combat aircraft.

An Air Force analysis of the Boeing 767's performance as a tanker is arguably even more valuable to EADS than a proprietary Boeing analysis. Likewise, the Air Force analysis of the A330 is likely s more valuable to Boeing than an EADS self-assessment.

A crucial question is whether the leaked information could affect the final pricing of the airplanes. Kodlick reiterated the spreadsheet did not include "any offer or proposed pricing."

However, the Air Force's mission effectiveness spreadsheets, in determining how many planes are needed and how far they fly, could provide information on the costs of carrying out the missions.

Knowing this cost data could factor into an adjustment of the offering price still ahead in the contest's final stages.

But the Air Force believes that since each company now has the other's data, that doesn't matter.

"Each offerer has the same information, so each could do the same thing" in weighing any price adjustment, said Kodlick. "It's a level playing field."

Kodlick said those responsible for the slip-up "will be held accountable." Two Air Force employees have already been reassigned and further disciplinary action is not ruled out, he said.

After a decade of do-overs and appeals, a tanker contract award was expected to be decided by November but has now slipped into early next year.

Dominic Gates: 206-464-2963 or dgates@seattletimes.com

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