Congressional boondoggle would cost American taxpayers billions

By Keith E. Phillips

President Barack Obama’s first budget, entitled “An Era of New Responsibility: Renewing America’s Promises,” is a crucial document. Nothing expresses a president’s governing principals more concisely than his budget, and it’s in this document that rhetoric gives way to fact.

One example of Obama’s priorities and his commitment to changing how government is run is the Defense Department budget.

It’s our challenge to reallocate our budget to reflect our current threats while honoring our obligation to those who served and continue to serve in the Armed Forces. That task is difficult even in the best of times. In today’s economy it’s particularly so, with funding for veterans and related issues under pressure. Hence, we need to be particularly attentive to redundancy and waste.

Because of this, Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have made overhaul of defense procurement a priority. An example of their efforts is the debate about engines for the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The military is in the process of replacing its aging fleet of fighters with the F-35s. A Pratt & Whitney engine will power this plane. Despite objections from military officials, an alternate engine is also being developed. There’s no need for this alternate engine and Congress should not put it in the budget, as it has done previously via earmarks.

This alternate engine development is a massive $6 billion program that’s unnecessary and wasteful. That’s why Obama cut it from his budget, saying, “They do not want — and do not plan to use — the alternate version. That’s why the Pentagon stopped requesting this funding two years ago. Yet, it’s still being funded.”

Resources are limited. American taxpayers work hard for every dollar and the government must be prepared to justify how every dollar is spent.

If the alternate engine program continues, it will mean $6 billion thrown away. That means fewer airplanes, fewer training hours for our troops and less medical care for returning veterans.

Not only is the cost extraordinary for the unwanted engines, it could make the F-35 less reliable. These complex machines need thousands of spare parts. A second engine would likely double the number of parts, creating greater complexity and additional burdens on ground crews. These increased burdens will come without saving money or improving performance.

With cost overruns in defense appropriations at near-crisis proportions, members of Congress need to resist the temptation to add these gratuitous programs back into the Pentagon’s budget and demonstrate to the American taxpayer that common sense will guide spending.

As we ask veterans and their families to make real sacrifices while the economy deteriorates, it’s unacceptable for us to allow parochial politics to advocate wasteful spending such as this.

Keith E. Phillips is founder of California-based Project Homecoming, which seeks to locate and bring home the remains of the 88,000 Americans missing from all wars.

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