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CT delegation seeks Army briefing about Sikorsky loss of helicopter contract

A US army Blackhawk helicopter flies at dusk at a military camp in Arlamow, southeastern Poland, near the border with Ukraine, on March 3, 2022.
Wojtek Radwanski
AFP via Getty Images
A U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter flies at dusk at a military camp in Arlamow, southeastern Poland, near the border with Ukraine, on March 3, 2022.

Connecticut’s congressional delegation has requested a “detailed briefing” from the Army about its decision on the future long-range assault aircraft contract, arguing that there are still many unanswered questions surrounding the rejection of Stratford-based Sikorsky’s bid for the project.

The lawmakers said that they have made repeated attempts to get a more comprehensive briefing from the department about its criteria but that Army leadership has denied those requests because of the ongoing process of a formal challenge to the contract award.

Last month, Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky lost the bid to build the eventual replacement to the Black Hawk helicopter, a contract that is worth up to $7.1 billion. Sikorsky recently filed a formal appeal to the Army’s selection of Texas-based Textron Inc.’s Bell, a process that can take a few months.

The decision shocked Connecticut with potential consequences not just for a major defense contractor but also the hundreds of suppliers to Sikorsky and the thousands of people who work for those smaller businesses. Since then, lawmakers in Connecticut say they have been seeking answers to little avail.

The state’s five House members — John Larson, D-1st District; Joe Courtney, D-2nd District; Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District; Jim Himes, D-4th District; and Jahana Hayes, D-5th District — and its two senators — Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy — said on Friday they sent a letter to Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth asking for a briefing “as soon as possible.”

“As you may be aware, there has been a considerable amount of confusion and valid criticism surrounding the award. It is our understanding 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,” the letter reads.

“It is simply unacceptable for the Army to continue to thwart our oversight responsibilities as members of Congress that are mandated in the U.S. Constitution,” the letter continues.

Connecticut lawmakers have had some contact with the Army since the decision in early December. A week after Bell was awarded the contract, Murphy and DeLauro said they spoke with Army leadership to get a better understanding of the process. But at the time, there were legal barriers to getting certain information before Sikorsky and Bell received their debriefings.

Murphy and DeLauro are members of their chambers’ respective Appropriations committees that fund the federal government and its agencies. And Sikorsky’s headquarters in Stratford is located in DeLauro’s district.

But members of the delegation said there have been obstacles to getting a discussion with a larger scope. They argue that the denial of a briefing violates a rule surrounding government procurement and acquisition. And despite the pending protest by Sikorsky, lawmakers said that the federal agency reviewing the challenge said it does not prevent Congress from receiving one.

The Army did not immediately respond to a request for comment about a briefing or the letter.

Sikorsky entered the FLRAA contract competition with the Defiant-X in partnership with Boeing. Sikorsky president Paul Lemmo said the new model met the requirements when it comes to speed and range as well as noting its “maneuverability and survivability.”

Lemmo recently said his team received a full debriefing from the Army after the decision was made and followed up with additional questions. But Lemmo said the company chose to pursue a challenge to the awarded contract because it believed the “evaluation criteria were not followed.”

“We remain convinced that based on the selection criteria the Army laid out that Defiant X is the transformational aircraft that ensures the Army’s readiness … and deters rapidly advancing threats,” Lemmo told reporters in late December.

“We are going to maintain those suppliers as we continue to build Black Hawk, and we’ll see the outcome of this protest as it relates to FLRAA,” he continued, adding that Sikorsky will keep building Black Hawks, including for a different Army contract through at least 2027.

Most protests to contracts are filed with the U.S. Government Accountability Office, a watchdog agency for Congress. GAO has up to 100 days to make its non-binding decision and can recommend whether to sustain, deny or dismiss Sikorsky’s protest.

If the GAO sustains the protesters’ arguments, it will recommend that the agency involved — in this case the Army — address the violation. The Army can then decide whether to go along with the recommendation.

This story was originally published by Connecticut Mirror.

The Connecticut Mirror/Connecticut Public Radio federal policy reporter position is made possible, in part, by funding from the Robert and Margaret Patricelli Family Foundation and Engage CT.

Lisa Hagen is CT Public and CT Mirror’s shared Federal Policy Reporter. Based in Washington, D.C., she focuses on the impact of federal policy in Connecticut and covers the state’s congressional delegation. Lisa previously covered national politics and campaigns for U.S. News & World Report, The Hill and National Journal’s Hotline.

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