Last year on this date I sat around a table with about 10 other reporters in a Pentagon conference room and listened to Sue Payton, assistant secretary of the air force for acquisition, announce that the Boeing HH-47 had won the multi-billion dollar CSAR-X contract.
I was seated at the head of the table nearest to Payton, so perhaps that allowed me to get in the first question after she concluded her rather brief announcement.
My question, if I recall correctly, was this: What can you say about why you picked the HH-47 over the competing bids, the Lockheed Martin US101 and Sikorsky HH-92.
It was not exactly a 60 Minutes moment. I expected them to refer to their talking point cheat-sheet, and rattle off a few bits that I could throw into a news story.
But that’s not what happened. There was a discernoble pause, and for a moment I got the impression that my question had stumped them. Payton deferred to her military assistant, who basically repeated the same bland comments from the press release.
So I followed-up and asked a question that was roughly like this: Surely you can give us some reason why the HH-47 was a better deal for the taxpayers?
Again, neither Payton or her deputies was prepared to give a clear answer to this simple question.
That’s when the other reporters in the room joined the fray and a melee of questions with no satisfactory answers ensued. I left after 20 minutes to make my next appointment, but I was there long enough to know that this was no ordinary contract announcement.
It’s interesting to look back on that experience one year later, with the contract still in hot dispute and undergoing its third round of competition. There was a report earlier this week that the USAF will push back contract award again from February to August.
Is this the new paradigm for major USAF contract decisions?
Coming to the rescue … or not (Source: US Air Force)