WASHINGTON — The Connecticut delegation on Capitol Hill is pressing the U.S. Army for more information about its Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft award, even as the Government Accountability Office reviews the procurement.
Late last year, Texas-based Textron Bell beat out a team of Connecticut-based Sikorsky and Boeing for the deal to build the next-generation vertical-life aircraft. The program, the Army’s largest helicopter procurement decision in 40 years, is worth up to $1.3 billion and would replace roughly 2,000 Sikorsky-manufactured UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters in the 2030 timeframe.
Sikorsky quickly filed a protest with the GAO over the decision.
On Jan. 12, the Connecticut delegation, which includes both senators and five House representatives, wrote to Army Secretary Christine Wormuth seeking a briefing on the selection.
The lawmakers wrote that Sikorsky’s bid for FLRAA “was significantly superior in terms of cost, but that due to a subjective unsatisfactory evaluation on a single criteria, Sikorsky’s bid was rejected and never fully evaluated.”
But the Army this week declined to discuss its decision with lawmakers, citing the protest period. (The GAO is slated to decide the case by April 7.)
In a letter sent to Connecticut lawmakers this week, Army acquisition chief Doug Bush said the service would “respectfully” decline the invitation to conduct a briefing “at this time.” Bush, in the letter obtained by Defense News, said the Army would be able to provide its rationale once the protest is resolved.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee whose Connecticut district includes Sikorsky’s headquarters, told Defense News she will “continue to push for” a briefing.
Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut tweeted this week that he thinks the Army is choosing not to brief them because “the price difference between the affordable Sikorsky helicopter and the expensive Bell non-helicopter are enormous.”
He followed up with another tweet on Thursday: “FYI yesterday the Army denied Congress’s request for a briefing — for the 4th time. Is this because the price of the Bell helicopter is sky high compared to the Sikorsky bid? Why doesn’t the Army want Congress to know this?”
DeLauro and Murphy joined fellow Connecticut Democrats Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Reps. Joe Courtney, John Larson, Jim Himes and Jahana Hayes in signing the January letter.
In that document, they wrote that a pending GAO protest should not prevent the Army from meeting with lawmakers.
Courtney told Defense News his staff and the rest of Connecticut’s delegation are researching whether the Army has consistently chosen not to brief lawmakers during a protest period.
“This is something that needs to be protected information, but on the other hand, this is going to be one of the largest acquisition programs in the country for a long time and I think the request by members is legitimate,” he said.
Courtney said lawmakers want to discuss a variety of issues surrounding the decision, from cost to whether they can be maintained in existing depots.
House Appropriations Chairwoman Kay Granger, DeLauro’s Republican counterpart, represents Fort Worth, where Bell is headquartered. Her office did not reply to Defense News’ request for comment.
Asked about the deal, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, told Defense News he plans to “let all that play itself out,” but added that Bell holding onto its award “would be a good thing.”
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.