- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating is associate editor at Foreign Policy and the editor of the Passport blog. He has worked as a researcher, editorial assistant, and deputy Web editor since joining the FP staff in 2007. In addition to being featured in Foreign Policy, his writing has been published by the Washington Post, Newsweek International, Radio Prague, the Center for Defense Information, and Romania's Adevarul newspaper. He has appeared as a commentator on CNN International, C-Span, ABC News, Al Jazeera, NPR, BBC radio, and others. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he studied comparative politics at Oberlin College.
The elimination of the F-22 from the defense funding bill passed by the House yesterday was billed as a major victory for President Obama and Defense Secretary Gates, as this list compiled by the AP shows, the House still managed to fund quite a few expensive programs that nobody at the White House or Department of Defense had asked for:
VH-71 presidential helicopter — Obama recommended just $85 million for program termination costs after the troubled helicopter received $835 million this year. The House provided $400 million, drawing a White House veto threat.
F-35 alternative engine — The House provided $560 million for the alternative engine; Obama proposed "zeroing out" the second engine project and threatens a veto if the final bill would "seriously disrupt" the overall F-35 program.
C-17 cargo jets — Obama wants to kill the program and requested only $91 million to shut down the production line. Congress funded eight planes in this year’s war funding bill; the House bill provides $674 million for three more planes.
Kinetic Energy Interceptor — Obama requested no funding for the Kinetic Energy Interceptor, aimed at shooting down enemy ballistic missiles during their boost and early mid-course phases of flight. The House provided $80 million.
The idea of spending an addition $400 million for a presidential helicopted that the president doesn’t want is obscene enough, but there’s plenty more pork to go around, as Jeffrey Smith of the Washington Post wrote yesterday:
Although President Obama has repeatedly criticized earmarks, the White House statement of policy on the House bill obliquely criticized only "programs that fund narrowly focused activities." No mention was made of items such as a proposed $8 million Defense Department grant Murtha inserted for Argon ST, a Pennsylvania military contractor that has contributed $35,200 to him in the past four years, or of a $5 million grant Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.) inserted for DRS Technologies, a Florida contractor that has contributed $46,350 to Young during that period, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.
The White House criticized the addition of $80 million for the Kinetic Energy Interceptor program, which Gates and other Pentagon officials have said is technically troubled, behind schedule, and billions of dollars over budget. But Northrop Grumman, the principal contractor, is building a technology center in Murtha’s district that would bring 150 related jobs, and Murtha’s subcommittee sought its continuation as a way "to recoup the technology," according to an appropriations staff member, who was not authorized to speak on the record.
As Taxpayers for Common Sense notes, another contractor on the KEI is Kuchera Defense Systems, a contractor tied to Murtha that was raided by the FBI several months ago.
The Center for Defense Information’s Winslow Wheeler, who predicted on FP back in April that Gates’ efforts at procurement reform wouldn’t address the underlying flaws in the process gave an interview with Military.com yesterday, in which he described the situation the U.S. Armed Forces now finds itself in as a consequence of out-of-control "Murthaism:" (my emphasis)
We have today, a World War II high in spending in inflation-adjusted dollars, but we now have the smallest army, the smallest navy, and smallest air force we’ve ever had since the end of World War II and the inventory for major systems is on average older than its ever been before. We’re now at a totally outrageous 20 years per tactical aircraft. And training rates are below what they were during the so-called "hollow years" of the Carter administration…. More money has, quite literally, made our defenses worse.
The F-22 was a start, but we’re a long way from real reform of this utterly perverse process.