This summer, when U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates called on the four U.S. military branches to reduce their overhead costs by $100 billion over the next few years, he probably didn’t have this in mind. It has come to light that the U.S. Air Force, in an effort to avoid the lawsuits and delays that have plagued many of its recent aircraft purchases, is exploiting an obscure legal loophole to buy new helicopters without launching a competition.
The military is required by law to buy weapons through a competition. That’s meant to ensure the best price for taxpayers. To replace its fleet of more than 50 Vietnam War-era Bell UH-1 helicopters, used for patrols over U.S. nuclear-missile silos, the Air Force is skipping the competition and directly purchasing, via the Army, as many as 93 UH-60s built by Sikorsky. It’s legal — barely. The Air Force is invoking the rarely-cited Economy Act of 1932, “which allows federal agencies to buy goods from other federal agencies without having to seek bids from companies,” according to Defense News.