WASHINGTON - The Air Force awarded a $434 million maintenance contract to Robins Air Force Base Thursday, boosting the middle Georgia installation's standing in any future round of military base closings.
Rep. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., whose district includes the base near Warner Robins, said the seven-year maintenance contract for the giant C-5 Galaxy cargo plane will mean at least 300 to 400 new jobs at Robins.
"We have been trying to position Robins in anticipation of another round" of base closings, said Chambliss. "This takes a giant step in the right direction as far as positioning Robins as the U.S. Air Force's airlift depot."
Maintenance of the C-5 fleet has been conducted at Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. That installation and McClellan Air Force Base in California both were ordered closed by the 1995 Base Closure and Realignment Commission.
President Clinton, however, proposed to keep the two vote-rich states from losing jobs by turning over the work at each base to private contractors in the two states.
After lawmakers from states with Air Force depots objected, the administration agreed to put the work up for bids, allowing both private contractors and public depots to compete.
The Air Force said awarding the contract to Robins will save $190 million over the seven years. Other bidders were Lockheed Martin Corp., the McDonnell Douglas subsidiary of Boeing Co., and Aero Corp S.A., a San Antonio subsidiary of Dallas-based Whitehall Corp.
All three private companies bidding on the work had pledged to operate in San Antonio and give Kelly workers preference in hiring.
Sen. Max Cleland, D-Ga., said Robins "had to go the extra mile" to win the contract because the administration was committed from the beginning to keeping the jobs in San Antonio.
"When Robins sent in the lowest bid, the Air Force went out of its way to make Robins prove the legitimacy of its bid," said Cleland.
Air Force Secretary Sheila Widnall described the public-private competition as "ground-breaking" and said the selection of Robins will "result in significant savings to the government and taxpayers."
Chambliss said personnel from Robins will be leaving immediately to take over supervision of C-5 work now underway at Kelly. The transition of the maintenance work to Robins will be completed within a year.
The announcement came as House and Senate conferees began hammering out the final version of the 1998 defense bill. The House bill includes language requiring the administration to move the workload at Kelly and McClellan to Robins or air logistics centers in Oklahoma and Utah, rather than turning it over to private companies in the two states.
Chambliss, a member of the conference committee, said he intends to press to keep that language in the final defense bill. He said the awarding of the contract to Robins probably will ease opposition to that language in the Senate.