Boeing lost tanker deal fair and square

By Angie Vogt, political commentary

Americans are a fair people.

We don’t like favoritism. Just go to a Little League baseball game and watch the parents when the coach puts his own kid in the game more than anyone else’s kid. We like a fair fight, an equal voice and an equal opportunity. This is the kind of ethic that made America a superpower.

Our basic ethic is to let everybody compete, with the idea that fair competition makes companies and entrepreneurs work harder to produce better products, create more efficient production capability and inspire ingenuity.

Usually the people with the best ideas and the best products rise to the top by natural selection. Microsoft is a better company because it has to compete with Apple, and wireless phone companies are always working harder to improve their services to better compete in the wireless service market.

This process gives consumers the upper hand. Consumers are a shrewd bunch looking for certain qualities in their products, such as the best customer service from the vendor or the best warranty on the product. It’s not always the lowest price that wins the sale. You get what you pay for, after all.

When I heard that Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray was “shocked and outraged” at the recent Air Force decision to contract its next generation tanker out to a European company, I had to investigate. In a mass-mailing letter from Senator Murray, it was these words that caught my attention:

“And as we continue to compete in a global market, we need to ask why we are giving $40 billion to a company (Airbus)…”

Giving? Indeed, as we “compete” in a global market economy, where the consumer is allowed to choose from among a variety of vendors, we do not expect anybody to simply “give” us a contract. In fact, Boeing has enjoyed the benefit of competition in foreign markets by winning contracts with Japan, New Zealand and many other foreign markets. If we want to do business, we have to play fair and compete according to the rules.

If Senator Murray is so outraged, why was a foreign company allowed to compete for the deal at all?

If we are so frightened at the prospect of a foreign company contracting for our national defense dollars, then why were they even permitted to bid?

Apparently, in 2006 Congress voted to give certain European governments exemption from the 1933 Buy American Act, essentially allowing these specific countries to compete in the American industrial bidding process for contracts. In truth, the Buy America Act has been riddled with exemptions in the 75 years since it was signed by President Herbert Hoover.

One thing is clear: Protecting American manufacturing jobs is a mixed bag with mixed results for America’s national security and economy. America simply has to get back in the business of manufacturing for our own long-term well-being and security. There is no question about that.

Still, it’s a bit premature and disingenuous for Senator Murray and Congressman Norm Dicks to blow their horn over this recent deal, after all the facts are considered.

According to the Air Force, Boeing failed to compete well in any of the five criteria that governed the bidding process. Insiders say that the two offers were not even close — in fact, with Airbus offering a better product, better customer service and oversight than Boeing.

The Air Force based its decision on the product itself and not the overall impact on union jobs or the state economy. Losing this contract is a big loss for our state in terms of jobs and economic stimulus, but it could lead to some good things for Boeing as a company if union bosses and company management decide to take this as a learning moment.

The only reason PC users have software like Windows is because of a company called Apple.

Apple’s user-friendly software began cutting into Microsoft’s share of the market. Windows software is what put Microsoft on the international market.

The same case can be made with American-made cars. In 2008, for the first time ever, some Ford models rated higher than Mercedes and BMW in performance and reliability, again pointing to the benefit of international competition.

Norm Dicks and Patty Murray are making sure to beat their chests in outrage on national TV (it’s an election year) to ensure their favor with the unions.

No worries. After they’re re-elected, they’ll settle down to business as usual, granting access and contracts to whichever special interest groups offer the biggest contributions.

Competition in the market economy is mostly a good thing. The bidding that I worry about is for special favors and access from our elected officials during an election year. Our government is supposed to be working for the voters, not the highest bidder.

Now that’s unfair competition!

Federal Way resident Angie Vogt: vogt.e@comcast.net. For past columns and more commentary, visit http://www.soundupdate.com.

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