The Defense Department and the House of Representatives have been engaged in a bit of a spat recently over funding for a second engine for the F-35 fighter jet. DoD says that the alternative engine is a big waste of money and has recommended that Congress jettison the program, but the House decided to fund it anyway in the 2011 defense authorization bill. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has pushed President Obama to veto the authorization if it ultimately includes the funding.
And the second engine isn’t the only item in the gargantuan defense budget that the DoD doesn’t want but that Congress insists on continually providing. Over the last four years, the Pentagon has requested precisely zero new C-17’s — a military transport plane — but has wound up with a whole bunch of them:
Despite the lack of a Pentagon request the past four years, Congress has appropriated $12 billion for 43 of the transport aircraft, including eight in the fiscal 2009 war supplemental spending measure and 10 in the fiscal 2010 Defense appropriations law.
As Congressional Quarterly pointed out, Congress’ insistence on funding a plane the Pentagon doesn’t want is “due in no small part to the lobbying efforts of Boeing Co., which builds the planes in California, Missouri, Georgia, Connecticut and elsewhere.” And Boeing is up to its old tricks yet again, “belatedly lobbying for the purchase of five more C-17s at a cost of about $1.3 billion” for this year.
“I am fully aware of the political pressure to continue building the C-17,” Gates has said. “So let me be very clear: I will strongly recommend that the president veto any legislation that sustains the unnecessary continuation.” As Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Michael McCord and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Alan Estevez told a Senate subcommittee this week, “it is not in the national interest to continue adding more C-17s…In our view, the production line should begin shutting down.”
This isn’t just about the upfront cost of purchasing more planes, which is considerable. It’s about then paying to maintain the planes for years. The Pentagon actually spends $1 billion per year to maintain the 43 C-17s that it didn’t request, but received anyway.
Obama has called the continued purchase of additional C-17s “waste, pure and simple.” And yet, they turn up in the budget year after year, as lawmakers look out for their own parochial interests at the behest of defense contractors.