Members of Congress Again Fail to Learn a Lesson | Citizens Against Government Waste
The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Members of Congress Again Fail to Learn a Lesson

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


On May 20, 2019, the House Appropriations Committee released its report to accompany the Department of Defense (DOD) appropriations bill for fiscal year (FY) 2020.  The report provides funding for 90 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft, 12 more than was requested by the Department of Defense (DOD).  This follows the established trend in recent years, including FY 2019, when legislators earmarked $1.8 billion for the JSF program, adding 18 aircraft above the DOD’s request.

The acquisition misadventures of the JSF program have been well-documented, as the program has been plagued by an abundance of persistent issues.  In development for nearly 18 years and eight years behind schedule, total acquisition costs now exceed $428 billion, nearly double the initial estimate of $233 billion.  An April 22, 2019 Bloomberg article analyzing the latest DOD Selected Acquisition Report noted that the lifetime operation and maintenance costs of the most expensive weapon system in history will total approximately $1.2 trillion.  This is a 20 percent increase over the $1 trillion in JSF lifetime operation and maintenance costs as reported in April 2015 by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Many of the problems with the F-35 program can be traced to the decision to develop and procure the aircraft simultaneously.  Whenever problems have been identified, contractors needed to go back and make changes to planes that were already assembled, adding to overall costs.  Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum on July 24, 2015, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James stated, “The biggest lesson I have learned from the F-35 is never again should we be flying an aircraft while we’re building it.” 

Unfortunately, members of Congress have routinely failed to learn this lesson, and continue to purchase more F-35s, despite flaws in the aircraft.  A June 5, 2018 GAO report noted that, in its “rush to cross the finish line, the program has made some decisions that are likely to affect aircraft performance and reliability and maintainability for years to come.”  These include the choice to address existing flaws after full production is initiated.  The report identified 966 “open deficiencies” in the JSF program, including 111 “must fix” problems.

Upon completion of the development phase, additional funding will be required in order to retrofit the aircraft funded by House appropriators in FY 2020.  Providing funding for planes in FY 2020 that the DOD did not even request exacerbates the problem and will further drive up costs for the JSF program.

A group of legislators in the House of Representatives have already made it clear that funding the F-35 above the level recommended by the DOD is a priority in FY 2020.  On April 3, 2019, Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), who co-chairs the House JSF Caucus, announced a proposal to purchase 102 additional aircraft in FY 2020 in part because doing so, “enables the realization of cost savings.”  In total, 103 House members, nearly one-quarter of the chamber, signed onto the JSF Caucus’s letter, a distressing signal of fiscal irresponsibility in Congress.

The notion that the DOD should double down on the most expensive weapons platform in history earned Rep. Turner CAGW’s Porker of the Month for April 2019.

Given the refusal of members of Congress to learn their lesson, it appears CAGW might be handing out more JSF-related Porkers of the Month in the future.

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