It’s not often that anyone accuses the Pentagon of sharing too much information. Yet that’s what one major weapons maker did last week, when it filed a suit trying to stop the Air Force from releasing its pricing data to a competitor.
In a complaint filed Friday at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Northrop Grumman, the maker of such military staples as the F-14 fighter jet and B-2 stealth bomber, asked Judge Ricardo Urbina to stop the Air Force from honoring a Freedom of Information Act request by Lockheed Martin, which it says would reveal private business information.
In October, Lockheed sent a letter to the Air Force asking it to provide all contract and delivery information related to its purchase of a weapons aiming system built by Northrop. Lockheed, of course, happens to build a competing product. Northrop objected to the release, arguing the documents contained technical and pricing information that amounted to trade secrets.
The Air Force, however, has written off those qualms, giving Northrop 10 days to get a court order stopping them from releasing the records. The company is being represented by Donald Russelland Richard Sauber of Robbins, Russell, Englert, Orseck, Untereiner & Sauber.
Releasing its contract information would let Lockheed undercut it on bidding, Northrop contends. The company says that more than $120 million in sales of the aiming system, known as the Litening Targeting Pod System, would be threatened.
It also says that release of design details would “allow competitors to gain unfair insight into Northrop Grumman’s competitive strategy and to improperly leverage this information when submitting their own bids.
Most FOIA requests the Air Force receives are from private companies looking for information on their competitors, says Air Force spokesman Captain Tom Wenz. Generally, he says, the department will release publicly available information, as well as full contract rates. But specific line items, such as unit prices and labor costs,are left off.
Wenz had no comment about Northrop's case, nor about how often such suits occur.
UPDATE: 3:51 p.m.