Anyone seen my $13 BILLION helicopter?
Ever wonder how we have trillion dollar deficits? Here’s a good example. This was the original request:
The Presidential Helicopter is responsible for the safe, reliable transport of the President in administrative and contingency environments, worldwide. The VH-71 is being developed to replace the existing VH-3D and VH-60N helicopters, which currently serve as “Marine One”.
And here’s the result so far:
The VH-71 program is six years behind schedule, and its cost has grown from $6.5 billion to over $13 billion. Over $3.2 billion has already been spent on this program with no operational aircraft delivered. The Government Accountability Office has warned that future costs of the VH-71 are unknown, and the Congressional Research Service has raised the question if the current program should be cancelled. These high costs and schedule slippage have occurred because of challenging program requirements and an ambitious schedule. Instead of continuing to pursue the current program, the Administration proposes to cancel it, review requirements, and establish a new program. A new Presidential Helicopter replacement program will allow the Administration to take advantage of new technologies and develop a helicopter that is fiscally responsible while still meeting the President’s requirements.
Now, at this time, the Congressional Research Service is wondering if this program should be cancelled.
The recommendation is equally duh, find someone else to do it cheaper.
Could Congress have actually been this blind? Well, that’s any easy argument to make with what the CRS has put on paper and released to the world, six years behind schedule with no operational aircraft? Here’s what Lockheed is saying about the VH-71:
In January 2005, Lockheed Martin was awarded the contract to build the next-generation presidential helicopter to replace the aging fleet of H-3s and H-60s currently in use, which will start being retired in 2017. The VH-71 is based on the EH101 aircraft manufactured by principal subcontractor AgustaWestland……
Increment 1 aircraft began arriving in late 2007. Two test aircraft are in flight testing with the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. Two test aircraft are undergoing mission systems integration at Lockheed Martin, NY. The first operational, or pilot production VH-71 made its initial flight September 22, 2008. The four test aircraft and one operational aircraft have flown a combined test flight total of just under 800 hours.
All Systems Integration Laboratories that support the VH-71 presidential helicopter program are fully functional at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, MD, Lockheed Martin, Owego, NY and Agusta, Cascina Costa, Italy. Ninety-eight percent of Increment 1 mission systems software is complete, and Lockheed Martin has met or exceeded all key performance parameters for Increment 1 aircraft.
OK, the way I get it here doesn’t exactly jive with what the CRS is saying. First of all, seems to me 2009-2005 isn’t six. I don’t know how they came up with six years. But, if Lockheed was given the contract in 2005, they’ve had four years, not six, to do their thing.
The second problem I have is Lockheed states there are several flying right now. That’s a lot different than saying “no operational aircraft delivered”. Now, here’s why I dismiss this part to some degree. How safe is a concept aircraft that’s never been tested? If you were going to ride in this thing, how much testing would you want before you felt safe?
And, the part that bothers me most is Lockheed saying they are 98% done. In other words, you’ve incurred at least 98% of the expense at this time. If you ditch that 98% and start from scratch, you’ve wasted $13 billion. The CRS’s recommendation is to totally ditch what’s been spent and bid it out again. I think my recommendation would be to give Lockheed six months to deliver. If they can’t do that with the craft that are already flying, there really is a serious problem and maybe the VH-71 just needs to be ditched.
Now, I’ve defended Lockheed at this point. However, my biggest issue is, what in the hell do you do that costs $13 BILLION dollars and takes years to build that we’ve already been flying for fifty years in the first place? A helicopter’s not a new gadget, they’re older than I am. Sure, this one may be bigger and fancier, but I would assume all the newer and fancier gadgets already exist as well. It would just be a matter of fitting these new gadgets in a new box. So, I gotta question the $13 BILLION price tag. This is taxpayor money, I deserve detailed spending reports.
Now, I know what a lot of you are thinking, since Obama just took office, this is yet another example of the Bush culture of corruption. Well, not so fast. First of all, this contract was awarded in January 2007. Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats had taken control of the House that year. So, although the original bid was a Republican responsibility, as of 2007, practically the day the contract was signed, it’s been a Democrat responsibility. In other words, not one penny was spent by the Republicans on this baby. The Democrats could have killed this thing before it even got started. They didn’t. So, given that the Congressional Research Service reports to Congress, it would seem some Congressmen ( and women of course ), would have been aware of the issues surrounding the VH-71 for two years. No one said a word basically. Now, Obama has declared the federal budget be cut one half of one percent, and suddenly this helicopter is made very public.
When something like this happens, I love to follow the money trail. Here’s some facts that may or may not mean something to people. Let’s start with lobbying. Congressional Research Service says this thing is six years behind schedule, so let’s go back six years and start. In regards to being a heavy hitter, here’s Lockheed’s rank in total lobbying over the last six years:
Seems to have jumped quite a bit once Nancy and the Dems took over the spending for Congress. Wonder who got the benefit of all that extra cash? Probably not who you’d assume. Certainly wasn’t who I expected:
|Congressional Black Caucus PAC||PAC Profile||55,000.00|
|Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ)||Politician Profile||30,000.00|
|Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii)||Politician Profile||18,000.00|
|John Boehner (R-Ohio)||Politician Profile||17,500.00|
|National Republican Senatorial Cmte||Party Committee Profile||15,000.00|
|Democratic Congressional Campaign Cmte||Party Committee Profile||15,000.00|
|Democratic Senatorial Campaign Cmte||Party Committee Profile||15,000.00|
|National Republican Congressional Cmte||Party Committee Profile||15,000.00|
|Republican National Cmte||Party Committee Profile||15,000.00|
|Norm Dicks (D-Wash)||Politician Profile||14,500.00|
|Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss)||Politician Profile||14,000.00|
|Ted Stevens (R-Alaska)||Politician Profile||14,000.00|
|Jack Reed (D-RI)||Politician Profile||12,000.00|
|Tom Udall (D-NM)||Politician Profile||11,500.00|
|Doc Hastings (R-Wash)||Politician Profile||11,000.00|
|Roger Wicker (R-Miss)||Politician Profile||10,000.00|
|John D. Dingell (D-Mich)||Politician Profile||10,000.00|
|Solomon P. Ortiz (D-Texas)||Politician Profile||10,000.00|
|Robert E. Andrews (D-NJ)||Politician Profile||10,000.00|
|Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md)||Politician Profile||10,000.00|
The Congressional Black Caucus PAC? The Congressional Black Caucus so far has gotten more than the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee combined. Apparently Lockheed Martin, for some strange reason, feels it’s more important to pander to a race oriented organization than a national party. For a while it worked for them. However, apparently Obama wants to put an end to that relationship ASAP. First the F-22 was cancelled, and now it looks like the $13 BILLION helicopter is gone.
Now, where this gets kind of weird for me is if somehow, the VH-71 is saved, it will have the appearance that special interest groups intervened. That special interest group would be the Congressional Black Caucus, and they would be fighting against a black President.
Washington sure makes for some strange politics.
Bottom line, I think Lockheed Martin is pandering to who they perceive to be in charge in DC. The appearance is probably as bad as the reality in this circumstance.