In a move that could strike a major blow to defense contractor Northrop Grumman amid a competitive bid to build Air Force tankers, an ardent supporter of rival Boeing will likely take over the gavel from the late Rep. John Murtha as chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.
Murtha, the veteran Pennsylvania lawmaker who died on Monday at a Virginia hospital, had favored a compromise for the contentious $40 billion tanker refueling contract between Boeing and Northrop Grumman, suggesting a split award for both companies.
But Democratic Washington Rep. Norm Dicks, an open and leading proponent for Boeing and the most senior committee member, will likely succeed Murtha. A Democratic aide told The Daily Caller that Dicks is now the acting chairman of defense appropriations and is likely to be approved by the Democratic caucus to hold the position permanently.
It would be seen as a plus for Boeing — which plans to assemble the tankers in Washington state— if Dicks is installed as chairman by the Democratic leadership.
In 2008, the Air Force awarded Northrop Grumman the contract, though it was rescinded amid protests from Boeing.
In offering his support then for Boeing during the re-bidding process, Dicks said, “If the Air Force doesn’t get it right, I’m going to reserve all of my options as a member of the appropriations committee to offer amendments and do everything I can to stop this thing from going forward.”
Northrop Grumman has threatened to withdraw their bid over claims that the requirement unfairly advantages Boeing. An award announcement is expected this summer.
Boeing spokesman Sean McCormack declined to comment on the implications of Murtha’s death on the competition and Northrop spokesman Randy Belote would only say, “It is speculative at this point to comment on Congressman Murtha’s successor as chairman.”
To some Northrop supporters, though, Dicks getting the gavel wouldn’t necessarily be a fatal blow because, as chairman, he will have a greater burden to guarantee a fair tanker competition than he did as a subcommittee member. He’d face the wrath of watchdog groups too if he was seen as not promoting a contest down the middle of the road.
Dicks praised the Pennsylvania congressman as “a strong leader and an exceptionally fair chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.”