Senate Armed Services Committee to hold hearings and vote on proposal for Air Force to lease Boeing refueling tankers, but groups say plan should go through approps process.

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Air Force wants to lease 60 refueling tankers from Boeing Corporation. The Senate Armed Services Committee has scheduled hearings for September 3rd 2003 and a vote. But the huge contract has some critics asking: Do taxpayers get more for lease?

Under the lease, the Air Force would have 60 air-to-air refueling tankers – which are converted Boeing 767 passenger and cargo aircraft – by 2009, faster than if the aircraft were traditionally procured through purchasing contracts. But with faster comes a price tag, and that price tag is heavily disputed; some estimates suggest $1.9 billion more than if the planes were purchased outright.

"The Boeing deal is a serious purchase for the Defense Department with a serious price tag for American taxpayers," said taxpayer advocate Grover Norquist, who heads Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) in Washington, DC. "The difference between purchasing and leasing in this matter is an amount of cash more than all the foreign aid given to Afghanistan by all countries in 2002," he continued.

Rather than going through the usual Defense Appropriations process, where most defense and national security spending is determined, the Boeing tanker deal is part of a bill separate from the traditional spending process. This has led some critics and opponents of the deal to question the integrity of the process itself.

"With so much money at stake, it is crucial that the Boeing tanker lease deal goes through the appropriations process, with full accounting by CBO and GAO to determine if taxpayers are getting their money\’s worth," continued Norquist. "The Air Force has determined that it needs more refueling tankers, and taxpayers who care about national security do not quarrel with these needs. But as we all know, the DOD like any government bureaucracy is quite capable of wasting money and the benefits of this deal should surely be weighed against its costs and alternatives," he concluded.