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April 20, 2010 at 3:08 PM

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Dicks defends himself over Boeing tanker flap

Posted by Kyung M. Song

WASHINGTON -- A pugnacious Rep. Norm Dicks defended himself Tuesday against accusations that he exploited his chairmanship of the House defense appropriations subcommittee to try to torpedo a revised bid for the Air Force tanker contract from Boeing rival EADS.

A simmering controversy over Dicks erupted Monday after two members of Alabama's congressional delegation publicly accused Dicks of warning off American defense contractors from partnering with European Aeronautic Defence and Space (EADS) for the $40 billion Pentagon contract.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, an Alabama Republican, said Dicks engaged in "brazenly inappropriate behavior" by declaring that he did not understand why any defense contractor would pair up with EADS. Dicks said he hoped EADS would not rebid for the tanker contract.

EADS announced Tuesday that it will go ahead with a solo bid against Boeing. EADS's previous partner, Northrop Grumman, dropped out of the competition last month after concluding that the Pentagon's specifications for the tankers favored the smaller Boeing plane.

Dicks rejected charges that he was using intimidation to secure the order for Boeing. Dicks also denied putting pressure on potential bidders, saying that he merely offered his opinion when reporters or others asked for his position.

"They asked me the question and I answered it truthfully," Dicks, a Democrat from Bremerton, said. "We don't need a big airplane."

Dicks officially took over the top post in early March at the defense appropriations subcommittee, which oversees Pentagon spending, after the death of its former chairman, Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania.

The lucrative tanker competition has been highly politicized, pitting Americans against Europeans and the Puget Sound area against Alabama, where the Northrop tankers would have been assembled.

Dicks contends that he shouldn't have to mute his views because he chairs the subcommittee. And, he said, the political flap doesn't change the fact that the ultimate decision on which tankers to buy will be made by the Pentagon.

"I don't conduct the competition," Dicks said. The controversy "has nothing to do with anything."

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