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WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 19, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Air Force killing garden to pluck a few bad weeds

When the Air Force suspended The Boeing Co.'s ability to bid on contracts, it hurt many people with no connection to the company's alleged fraud.

We do not dispute the proposition that, if Boeing rigged bids as accused, someone deserves punishment. Eliminating Boeing's ability to bid on Air Force jobs, however, is akin to digging up the garden to remove one weed.

The coming layoff of 100 employees at the Boeing plant in Decatur, announced Friday, is a direct result of the punishment imposed on Boeing by the Air Force. The action will devastate employees who had nothing to do with the misconduct, and who had proved their value in the successful Delta IV program.

North Alabama, also free from blame, will suffer. Merchants will lose customers, suppliers will lose money and local governments will lose tax revenue.

The punishment also hurts the Air Force. The layoffs erode Boeing's ability to produce the rockets that many believe are the best in the world. The financial stranglehold imposed by the Air Force will slow or stop Boeing efforts to improve its product.

Fraud must be punished to avoid repetition of cheating, but the Air Force should limit the punishment to those who are culpable. A broad-brush punishment that damages hourly employees, the city of Decatur and the Air Force is an unwise punishment.

Imprisoning or fining the executives who committed the fraud would prevent future misconduct, and it would do so without penalizing the innocent.

Morgan County and the state made a commitment to Boeing in exchange for up to 3,000 long-term jobs. While the timeline for those jobs is way off, Boeing should have little difficulty in fulfilling that commitment once it absorbs the Air Force penalty and the need for more commercial satellites creates a demand for Delta rockets.

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