Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Election Over, RIP Earmarks?

Following one of the most contentious and expensive mid-term election campaign cycles in American history, the votes have now been counted, winners declared, and composition of the 112th Congress finally determined. At the top of the winners list must surely sit House Speaker-Elect John Boehner. Yet he will quickly find that increased power comes with a commensurate level of accountability, not least of which from the newcomers in his own caucus, many of who ascribe to a pseudo-libertarian view of pure federalism.

Under such a paradigm, it would seem impossible to defend the proliferation of earmarks, doggedly championed by those with the most to gain, while simultaneously deriding similar requests elsewhere as “pork.” We would humbly submit to the new members of Congress that the unwanted, unaffordable and underperforming F136 extra engine is the most flawed of all earmarks regardless of your district’s location and therefore ripe for the knife.

What began in the early 1990s as the Joint Advanced Strike Technology program evolved into what we now know as the Joint Strike Fighter. Lt. Gen. George Muellner, then assigned to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, told Aerospace America in September 1995, “We are going to have a competitive fly-off, with two design families competing against each other and a down-select by the year 2000. With regard to the engine, we told the contractors that they were free to select any engine that was or could be available.” This Contractor Furnished Equipment process led to multiple independent selections by the airframers in favor of the F135 (derived from the F-22-powering F119) over what would become the GE/Rolls-Royce F136.

Those losses stunned GE into a rare moment of candor. "Pratt's been more at the forefront with these things because they have a brand new engine," acknowledged GE spokesman Rick Kennedy, as reported by the Hartford Courant on March 12, 1996. "We've been forced to be a little more creative."

Nearly 15 years later, GE’s creativity has been more noticeable in the halls of power and on the airways, rather than on the test stand, spending a breathtaking $8.2 million in the recent year on lobbying for an engine shunned by the Bush and Obama administrations, as well as the Pentagon, while Pratt & Whitney’s F135 is already in service. Yet, the congressional duplicity persists.

As Bloomberg’s Caroline Braum noted in an October 27, 2010 column, “House Minority Leader John Boehner rails against government spending yet votes for a $485 million appropriation for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter’s alternative engine, which the Pentagon wants to kill. Boehner’s district is near the General Electric plant that’s building the engine.” Her insightful column on earmarks also noted that the F136 was over budget and behind schedule, at least until GE pressured her to amend the lead paragraph, despite a highly publicized September 23rd engine failure on the test stand.

As the fiercely independent Sen. Joe Lieberman said on July 23, 2009, “I believe there was a competition. General Electric lost. It has gone the other way on other occasions. And this is a legislative attempt to achieve by legislation what could not be achieved through competition.” Newly minted members of the 112th Congress looking to obliterate wasteful earmarks: the line forms at the F136.

– EagleBlogger

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