CHN: Unprecedented Move Halts Further Production of Major Weapons System

For decades, independent defense experts have identified waste in military spending.  While human needs advocates have long wished to curtail such waste and re-direct funds to domestic priorities, military contractors have been impervious to efforts to cut back.  Until now.  The culture that has allowed the Department of Defense (DOD) F-22 fighter jet program to receive unquestioned funding increases since its inception is about to end.  Currently funding is available to produce 187 F-22s by 2011.  This weapons system, created over 30 years ago to counter the threat from the Soviet Union, has been plagued with cost overruns and delays.  The Soviet Union no longer exists; the F-22 has not flown a single mission in Iraq nor Afghanistan; and flaws in the exterior of the plane require constant maintenance making it very expensive to fly.  Yet many lawmakers have repeatedly refused to vote against producing additional planes in part because 25,000 employees in 46 states work on contracts related to its production.
This summer intense lobbying by the White House and a veto threat against any spending bill that seeks to expand the program brought results.  In June the House had defied the Administration’s budget request to phase out production of the F-22 by including a down payment for 12 additional F-22s in its Defense Authorization bill.  In July, however, the Senate took a historic step during consideration of its Defense Authorization bill when it voted 40-58 along bi-partisan lines in favor of an amendment against producing the additional fighters (60 votes were needed to continue expanding the program).  Following the Senate’s lead, on July 30 the House agreed to strip funding from its Defense Appropriations bill for the new jets.

Phasing out production of the F-22s will not leave DOD high and dry.  Unlike the F-22, which was designed for use specifically by the Air Force, the next major fighter system, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), has three similar versions to accommodate the Air Force, Marine Corps, and the Navy.  Currently DOD plans call for producing 2,443 JSFs, the world’s most expensive weapons system, whose cost estimate of $246 billion in 2007 continues to climb. The F-35, like the F-22, is manufactured by Lockheed Martin.  Job losses from phasing down production of the F-22 will be more than offset as employment in the F-35 program is anticipated to grow from its current 38,000 to 82,000 by 2011.

Congress strongly resists cutting DOD programs, often for a combination of parochial and political reasons, even when Pentagon officials testify that the program is not needed, is ineffective, or is too costly.  Despite progress in stopping further production of the F-22, Congress seems poised to fund two other programs that the Administration wants to terminate – the VH-71 presidential helicopters and an alternate engine for the F-35.  The VH-71 program would need $2 billion more in order to complete 5 helicopters that still would not meet operational requirements when completed.  The current engine for the F-35 is performing well, yet many in Congress would like to see an alternate engine produced.  Advisors to the President have said they will recommend vetoing the Defense Appropriations bill if funding for the two programs is included.

Human needs advocates are concerned about military spending, in part, because it competes for resources with programs that address the needs of families like education, job training, housing, nutrition, and child care.  The federal budget process begins with Congress agreeing to one large total number that funds annual appropriations for all military and non-military discretionary programs. Since 2001, the portion of funding that has gone to military programs has rapidly increased at the expense of non-military programs.  For FY 2010, Congress has agreed to spend approximately $1.09 trillion on all discretionary programs.  The House Defense Appropriations Committee bill which will be voted on by the full House in September, and later in the Senate, includes $508 billion for regular DOD operations and an additional $128 billion for war operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Department of Defense budget also typically contains billions of dollars in earmarks unrelated to Pentagon requests that go to constituent or other entities, some of whom have made campaign contributions to members pushing for their earmarks.  According to Taxpayers for the Common Sense, almost half of the 11,234 earmarks totaling $14.8 billion in 2008 were in the DOD bill.  As Congress responds to increasing deficits and the debt it will be critically important that members scrutinize DOD programs for cost-savings just as they do for domestic discretionary non-military programs.

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