Tanker deal may hinge on info

WASHINGTON — A Senate Republican who backs Northrop Grumman Corp.' s bid for a disputed $35 billion Air Force tanker contract wants to withhold funding until the service resolves a company gripe with the competition.

Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama filed an amendment Thursday that would require the Air Force to release pricing information of previous bids from both Northrop and its partner, Airbus parent European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. NV, and rival Boeing Co.

The move follows reports that the Air Force may have disclosed price data about Northrop's bid to Chicago-based Boeing during last year's competition to replace the 179 aging tankers.

"How can we expect the playing field to be level if one company was given sensitive information about the other's bid? If that is the case, the best way to rectify the situation is to demand that information be shared in both directions," Sessions said.

Should Northrop win the lucrative deal it will build a new plant in Mobile, Ala., and states like Florida and West Virginia could also stand to gain jobs. If Boeing lands the award, Washington, Kansas and other states would benefit from a boost in jobs.

The Pentagon's weapons buyer, Ashton Carter, has said the department found "no competitive disadvantage" following its examination of Northrop's claim. The information in question was inaccurate, outdated or not relevant to the new competition, he said last week.

Still, Los Angeles-based Northrop says it wants proof.

"We really don't know if the pricing information is inaccurate or outdated. Therefore, the Defense Department should provide us Boeing's comparable pricing data and we will decide for ourselves," said Northrop spokesman Randy Belote.

On Wednesday, Boeing spokesman Bill Barksdale said the Air Force already had "clearly and definitively dealt with this issue."

Debate on the defense appropriations bill could be completed as early as Thursday night, a spokesman for the Senate Appropriations Committee said.