The Truth Needle | The Seattle Times has launched a new feature to help voters discern fact from fiction between now and the November election. The Truth Needle will examine the claims of candidates and campaigns in the top races and decide whether they are true or false.
Truth Needle | Mostly true: Murray takes credit for stopping overseas tanker contract
In a television ad, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray takes credit for stopping the federal government from awarding a $35 billion aircraft contract to a foreign company. Her assertion is mostly true.
The claim: In a television ad called "Boeing," Sen. Patty Murray takes credit for stopping the federal government from awarding a $35 billion aircraft contract to a foreign company.
What we found: Although the ad doesn't mention it by name, Murray's claim refers to EADS, the parent company of Boeing's rival Airbus of Toulouse, France.
EADS, along with its U.S. partner, Northrop Grumman, in 2008 won one the largest defense contracts ever, to supply the next generation of airborne refueling tankers to the Air Force. Murray's assertion that she stopped the deal is mostly true.
Boeing had bagged that same contract in 2001 without competition. But the company forfeited it because of a procurement scandal that sent a Pentagon official and Boeing's chief financial officer to prison.
Just days after losing the rebid in 2008, Boeing filed a rare protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) alleging serious flaws in evaluating the competing airplanes.
Federal auditors agreed with Boeing. The Air Force subsequently called for a rematch — leading to Murray's claim that she halted jobs from flying to France.
In the TV spot, eight Boeing employees take turns reading the opening script:
The jobs were going to France
If Patty Murray hadn't stopped it
The federal government was giving a $35 billion contract
To a foreign company
But Patty helped stop it.
Some viewers took umbrage that Murray seemed to be taking undue — even single-handed — credit.
"The contract with Airbus was stopped as a result of a formal Boeing protest, which was upheld by the GAO, which then caused the [Air Force] to change the specifications to more realistic requirements," a retired Boeing Commercial Airplanes executive wrote The Seattle Times. "Sen. Patty Murray had no part in the above actions."
Tim Keating, Boeing's senior vice president for government operations, said Murray played "a critical role" in getting the Northrop-EADS contract overturned.
Keating said Murray, one of Boeing's most influential benefactors in Congress, early on advised the company to contest the Air Force's decision, something the aerospace giant hadn't done with a federal contract in three decades. Murray also kept after the tanker issue on the Senate floor, in hearings and in letters to Pentagon and administration officials.
Keating said the protest bore fruit.
The GAO "found glaring, huge mistakes [in comparing the technical and cost merits of the planes], any one of which could have stopped the contract," he said.
Given that, wouldn't Boeing have pursued the protest even without Murray's prodding?
Keating wouldn't answer directly, except to say that Murray's advocacy "was a factor."
But Keating is emphatic on a more central point: Had it not been for Murray and her congressional allies, the Air Force could have simply shrugged off the GAO's recommendation to rebid the tanker contract.
The Pentagon "was going to make minor changes to keep the contract with Northrop," Keating said. "Sometimes political pressure does make people do the right thing."
The GAO was acting as an administrative court in the tanker review, but its findings do not have the force of law, said Ralph White, the agency's managing associate general counsel for procurement law.
As is common in political ads, Murray collapses a tortuous rebid process into an oversimplified 30-second spot. Also, a Boeing defeat would not have siphoned all jobs to France; Airbus said its tankers would be assembled in Mobile, Ala., with component parts made in Europe. Indeed, Northrop and EADS claimed that their winning the tanker deal would have spawned 48,000 direct and indirect U.S. jobs.
It's also difficult to parse just how much influence any one member of Congress exerts. Boeing, a major employer and campaign contributor, has many friends on Capitol Hill. Not least among them is Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton, chairman of the pivotal House Defense Appropriations subcommittee, who has all but vowed to see that Boeing gets the tanker work.
Our verdict: Murray's ad is mostly true, with demerits for excessive boasting for the line "if Patty hadn't stopped it," which made it seem she deserved sole credit.
But Murray's claim could turn out to be premature.
Boeing and EADS are now going head-to-head in the third round of tanker bids, and the Pentagon is expected to name the (presumably final) winner in November.
Reported and written by staff reporter Kyung M. Song: 202-662-7455 or firstname.lastname@example.org
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.