When U.S. Rep. John Salazar supported recently enacted health care legislation, he cited the bill’s deficit reduction attributes as a primary justification for his vote. “It is the single largest deficit reduction bill that I will ever vote on,” he noted.
If Rep. Salazar is serious about not only reducing federal spending but allocating the money we do spend more wisely, he can make another statement by ending an earmark that represents the worst of Congressional decision-making. This issue won’t receive the attention that was lavished on the health care debate, but one can truly measure a policymaker’s commitment by what he does when the spotlight isn’t shining as brightly.
The earmark in question allots nearly $500 million to develop an alternate engine for the Joint Strike Fighter, our nation’s next-generation fighter plane. Thus far, the extra engine has cost U.S. taxpayers $3 billion — even though the Pentagon doesn’t want it and Republican and Democratic administrations have tried to kill it.
You see, the JSF already has an engine, the F-35. When three defense contractors were vying to build the plane, all three — including the ultimate winner, Lockheed Martin — chose to include this engine in their proposed designs. Since then, the F-35 has performed exceptionally well in flight tests and earned the confidence of the Pentagon. So why does Congress insist on funding an extra engine? The answer lies in the three P’s: politics, pork and parochialism.
As is too often the case with defense programs, the alternate engine has become a pet project for legislators who want to boast they are creating jobs in their home districts. Nevermind that U.K.-based Rolls Royce is developing 40 percent of the extra engine and that much of the program will thus result in British, not American, jobs.
In addition to the tenuous jobs argument, proponents also claim that competition between two suppliers will result in taxpayer savings, improved safety and reliability and a stronger industrial base. But in 2006, the Bush administration concluded that a second engine would not achieve these goals and canceled funding for it. In May 2009, President Barack Obama followed suit. Still, Congress continues to fund an engine that is five to seven years behind in development and has yet to power a plane in flight.
Unfortunately, the risks here are not merely budgetary. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and other military leaders repeatedly have said that wasting resources on unwanted programs weakens America’s defense by taking precious funding away from higher priority needs.
“One dollar spent for equipment excess to our military requirements is a dollar that I can’t use to help protect the American people,” Gates said last year.
“The Navy does not have a requirement for an alternate engine, and its additional costs threaten our ability to fund currently planned aircraft procurement quantities, which would exacerbate our anticipated decrease in strike fighter capacity,” Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of Naval Operations, testified before the House Defense Appropriations Committee.
“The reality for me is, if more engines means less airplanes, that is not a good trade for the United States Air Force,” Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said.
These comments should be of particular concern here in Colorado, where military installations, suppliers and programs could see cutbacks if the Pentagon is forced to spend money on a spare part that provides no discernible economic or military benefits. Let Rep. Salazar know we can’t afford to be wrong on this.
Retired Air Force Col. Fred Garrison