The Generals, the Legislators and the Gulfstream VIP Transports

I’ll keep it simple, but bear with me.

According to some of the Senate’s “pork buster” senators, a defining characteristic of “pork” in defense bills is it’s being added to appropriations bills when it is not “authorized.” What they mean by this is that the House or Senate Appropriations Committees added the item to the Pentagon’s budget request for DoD Appropriations legislation, but it was not included, “authorized,” in the legislation that comes out each year from the House and Senate Armed services Committees (known and the National Defense Authorization bill). In other words, according to “pork buster” senators, such as Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., who is a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, it’s “pork” if the appropriators add it to a defense bill, but it’s not pork if it’s added to the National Defense Authorization bill reported out by the House and Senate Armed Services Committee.

Interesting.

Such an assertion, of course, begs the curious to check over the Armed Services Committees’ “National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006” Is there any pork in there? There is no need for further rhetorical questions.

For example, the Research and Development Title of the Armed Services Committees’ bill (on pp. 537-638 of the attached file) contains, by my count, 448 additional research projects not requested by the Pentagon. Hardy any of these are explained as to their nature; none of them are explained as to their ultimate cost. If that’s not pork, I don’t know what is.

It gets more interesting in other parts of the bill.

One of my long time favorites as an example of “pork” is VIP transport aircraft added by Congress to defense bills. These are passenger aircraft, some of them rather fancy, purchased to fly senior DoD civilian officials and generals, and, of course, Members of Congress, all over the world. A major unit of these aircraft is located at Andrews Air Force Base, just a few miles away from the Pentagon and the Capitol building; it’s the 99th Airlift Squadron of the 89th Airlift Wing. One of their typical aircraft is a Gulfstream C-37. A highly successful business executive transport, General Dynamics proudly describes its “vital” mission as “providing secure, priority transportation to high-level government and military officials worldwide.”

In past years, additional VIP transports, often–but not always–Gulfstreams, have been stuffed into the defense budget by Congress. Sometimes this done because somebody in government thinks he or she needs one; sometimes a Member of Congress thinks the high ranking official needs one–that Members also ride in these is, of course, secondary.

Adding these aircraft was a popular gambit in the late 1990s. Then, Congress and some in the Pentagon passed up the opportunity to spend this money on tactical aircraft that would help our aging, shrinking fleet of close air support, air to ground aircraft. Now that we are at war, it would seem there are even more reasons to spend money on such aircraft, rather than VIP transports.

Scroll to page 497 of the attached National Defense Authorization bill; about two-thirds of the way down on the landscape table, see item # “9a;” that C-37B is an upgraded, extended range Gulfstream V. Someone added “(S. Amdt)” to the nomenclature, meaning that the addition was a senate amendment. This notation is rare; my guess is that a House staffer wanted there to be no doubt which side thought this was a good idea. See also that the cost for one aircraft is $45 million.

Surely, the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, who might need close air support from aircraft, such as the A-10, think buying a new Gulfstream for four star generals and Members of Congress is a really keen idea. (Today, there are about 48 A-10s in the Davis Monthan AFB “bone yard” collecting dust rather than funds for refurbishment and reactivation.)

Here’s where it starts to get confusing. Scroll to page 535 of the same bill/conference report. It says there that the “C-37B aircraft” was among the “Legislative Provisions Not Adopted.” That’s the same aircraft, and the reference here is not to some other section containing another Gulfstream. Quite literally, the bill’s “Joint Explanatory Statement” (what I am citing) first says the plane is in; then it says it’s out. The bill’s actual text, now law, sheds no light on the self-contradiction; it is silent on the matter.

Not to worry; the Pentagon will be buying the Gulfstream, not refurbishing any A-10s. The Department of Defense Appropriations bill for 2006, from the Appropriations Committees, funded the Gulfstream. This is a different bill. The add-on appears on page 309 of the appropriators bill. There, for the Air Force, the appropriators added the Gulfstream, but as usual with Congress there’s a complication and a ruse. The complication is that they are calling for a C-37A (apparently not the “B” extended range version). The ruse is that they added it not in the section of the bill for Air Force aircraft purchases, but in the section for “modification” of aircraft. Not to worry, however, on a subsequent page, 312, they made it clear this is a new aircraft, not a “modified” old one, by describing the spending as for an “Additional aircraft.” Almost makes you think they were trying to bury the porky little addition, doesn’t it?

Also, don’t worry that the self-contradictory “authorization” language somehow undoes the explicit–if buried–appropriations language; on these matters, the appropriators rule, and the authorizers have little, if any, say (but that’s a different story for a different time).

And so, we have here a strange and complex set of lessons on congressional porking in defense bills, as follows:

1) There’s plenty of “pork” in the Armed Services Committee’s National Defense Authorization bills; Members of Congress implying otherwise are just being–well–politicians.

2) One of the more egregious forms of pork, unrequested VIP transports, continues to find a happy home in Congress’ defense bills. However, the Armed Services Committees are, quite literally, trying to have it both ways on this year’s C-37B Gulfstream V by saying it’s both in, and not in, their bill. The only other explanation for their self-contradiction would be gross incompetence.

3) The appropriators usually, and in this case have, removed the confusion. Their priority for augmenting existing fleets of Air Force air craft in a time of war is all too clear.

WINSLOW T. WHEELER is the Director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information. He spent 31 years working for US Senators from both parties and the Government Accountability Office. He contributed an essay on the defense budget to CounterPunch’s new book: Dime’s Worth of Difference. Wheeler’s new book, “The Wastrels of Defense: How Congress Sabotages U.S. Security,” is published by the Naval Institute Press.

 

Winslow T. Wheeler worked for 31 years on Capitol Hill for both Republican and Democratic Senators and for the Government Accountability Office on national security and program evaluation issues. When he left Capitol Hill he worked at the Center for Defense Information and the Project On Government Oversight for thirteen years altogether.

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