Hill Air Force Base continues to face a stacked deck as it seeks repair-and-maintenance work from two closing bases, key senators and investigators said this week.
"There has been every possible, conceivable action to try to keep that from taking place," complained Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. His state is home to Tinker Air Force Base, which he says also faces unfair hurdles for such potentially base-saving work.Inhofe complained the Air Force packaged bids for much of the work in ways to hurt Hill and Tinker, hindered them from teaming with contractors to improve bids, failed to make adequate studies before such decisions and hid documentation from Congress.
Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness, spoke at a hearing Wednesday that continues a long fight with President Clinton.
It began when Clinton promised to save jobs at two bases that had been ordered to close - Kelly in Texas and McClellan in California - by giving work in place to contractors.
That threatened Hill, Tinker and a base in Georgia with closure instead if they could not gain work from the two bases to reduce overhead costs from underused facilities.
Congress thought it blocked Clinton's plans last year, charging they unfairly politicized the base-closure process.
But, for example, the Air Force then decided to package most of the work it is offering for public bid from McClellan in one large package, instead of in smaller groupings - which favors contractors still seeking to keep work in place at the closing bases.
As Maj. Gen. Richard Roelig, commander of Hill's Ogden Air Logistics Center, testified, such bundling hurts Hill because it "does not have facilities necessary for the KC-135" cargo plane that is included in it.
That means Hill would either have to build them (which would raise costs and hurt its chances to win the bid) or it must team with contractors who already have such facilities, which he said Hill is now seeking to do.
But Inhofe complained that when Tinker similarly tried to team with contractors on bids from Kelly, Air Force officials sent "guidance" letters that he said quashed the effort - and would appear to make it difficult for Hill also.
Inhofe also complained the Air Force did not do adequate studies to justify decisions to push larger bid packages - which Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, notes were allowed by law only if the Air Force could prove the work cannot be done unless bundled.
The U.S. General Accounting Office, a research arm of Congress, testified that the Air Force refused to provide documents it says would prove that - even though it was required by law.
"That's unacceptable, gentlemen," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told the Air Force. "Are we supposed to believe you when you won't give the GAO - in effect give the Congress - the information we mandate by law?"
After the House also complained about that a week ago, the GAO said the Air Force released some data it said proved its case for bundling of bids together - but which the GAO said Wednesday were still inadequate.
"Other alternatives (to allow smaller bid packages) that appear to be logical and potentially cost-effective were not considered," said Henry L. Hinton, assistant comptroller general with the GAO.
Hinton also complained that while the Air Force said bundling bids in big packages would save money on the bidding process, it didn't consider the "additional layer of cost associated with subcontracting" needed for such big packages.
He said such costs "could exceed the projected savings."
Undersecretary of Defense Jacques S. Gansler pledged to make documents needed by the GAO available soon. But Hinton said tight time constraints placed by the military in that pledge will make it difficult to ensure the bidding process is fair in a timely manner.
When Sen. Charles Robb, D-Va., asked Roelig if Hill feels it can fairly compete with the current situation, he responded, "We had a number of concerns that we've forwarded. . . . We have not seen the resolution of those."