Public Outrage Grounds Congressional Jets | Citizens Against Government Waste

Public Outrage Grounds Congressional Jets

The WasteWatcher

In 2005, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) tried to fund the infamous “Bridge to Nowhere,” which would have connected the mainland of Alaska to an island of only 50 people.  After the bridge became the “poster child” for pork and taxpayers expressed their disdain, funding for the “Bridge to Nowhere” was eliminated. 

In late July, the House Appropriations Committee tried to pull another fast one on taxpayers when it funded eight executive jets at a cost of $550 million instead of the four that the Pentagon requested for a total of $220 million. 

It is normal for the Pentagon to have executive jets to fly high-ranking personnel around the world without having to book commercial flights.  It is also normal for the planes to age and to be replaced.  Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute noted in a August 6, 2009 Roll Call article that, “In the case of the VIP transport for the executive branch, you can easily explain the cost [of private travel] in terms of the risk of somebody being taken hostage or having their time wasted when a critical decision is pending.”  Usually, the Pentagon submits its budget request to Congress and the money gets appropriated.

But, instead of respecting the Pentagon’s request for four aircraft, the House Appropriations Committee included four additional aircraft, including $132 million for two additional Gulfstream jets – and said they had to be based at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, which is a short drive from the U.S. Capitol.  All they had to do was change the “1” to a “3” in the fiscal year (FY) 2010 Defense Appropriations Act. 

The most cowardly aspect of the funding for the extra jets is that nobody took credit for the additional funding.  In fact, staff of the House Appropriations Committee said that it wasn’t an earmark.  According to the Roll Call article, “Because the Appropriations Committee viewed the additional aircraft as an expansion of an existing Defense Department program, it did not treat the money for two more planes as an earmark, and the legislation does not disclose which Member had requested the additional money.”  Taxpayers don’t care about semantics.  They know an earmark when they see one and they wanted these jets grounded.

The waste and chicanery surrounding the congressional jets is not new.  In fact, it is eerily similar to the current debate about funding for the alternate engine for the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).  Since 2006, the Pentagon has tried to eliminate funding for the alternate engine.  President Obama highlighted the alternate engine as an example of government waste several times since he first mentioned it in May.  Nevertheless, Congress has appropriated $770 million in earmarks since 2004, including three anonymous earmarks totaling $465 million in the FY 2009 Defense Appropriations Act.

Most recently, the House of Representatives earmarked $603 million in the FY 2010 Defense Authorization Act and $560 million anonymously in the FY 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act in direct defiance of President Obama’s threatened veto of such funding.

On August 10, 2009, after a firestorm of controversy, House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha (D-Pa.) promised to yank the additional funding for the congressional jets.  In an August 11, 2009 article in Congressional Quarterly article Rep. Murtha said, “If the Department of Defense does not want these aircraft, they will be eliminated from the bill.”

Rep. Murtha should use the same logic for funding the JSF alternate engine.  The Pentagon has not requested funding for the engine and the funding should be stripped from the appropriations bill.

The Pentagon sought to buy one Gulfstream V and one business-class equivalent of a Boeing 737 to replace aging planes. The Defense Department also asked to buy two additional 737s that were being leased.

David Williams

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