BY KERRI TOLOCZKO – “… distractions and mischaracterizations cloak substantive arguments surrounding the issue as the second engine is not “extra;” it’s an alternate, and the enormous difference between the two words means everything.”
Countless stimulus dollars have been used to study the effects of cocaine in monkeys and provide low-income DC residents with Blackberries to connect with quit-smoking websites.
Yet as terrorists abound and China and Iran continue to push for military dominance with carrier-killer missiles and nuclear weapons, in America, military budget cuts continue.
The House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee recently voted to continue funding what has become a controversial second engine made by General Electric and Rolls Royce for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to reinforce a primary Pratt & Whitney engine.
The decision to continue this multi-vendor competition now rests in the Senate with votes of such key Senators as Daniel Inouye (D-HI), Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and John McCain (R-AZ) and still unsure.
The result of competitive bidding is a better product, lower price and often an alternative source in case the wheels fall off the primary widget.
Despite strong recommendations for the second engine from the House and the independent Government Accounting Office, President Obama believes one-stop engine shopping for a single-engine fighter plane is a prudent plan.
The story has been covered extensively in the media – from the wrong perspective. Instead of fostering a debate on multiple-source purchasing for critical military components, stories focused on juicy bits – competing lobbyists, “pay to play” accusations and advertising budgets.
Public relations efforts by both vendors have been predictably hard-hitting as the companies are ultimately accountable to shareholders and employees. But are messages accurate?
A recent story covered a Pratt & Whitney poll that had questions so slanted that it bordered on comedy. For example, most respondents said “no” when asked if the Pentagon should buy an “extra” engine. Phrased like that, who wouldn’t?
It concluded that supporting alternate engine competition would jeopardize electability. The JSF engine dispute few people outside Washington even heard of replaces jobs as the key driver of voter choice in November. Really?
These distractions and mischaracterizations cloak substantive arguments surrounding the issue as the second engine is not “extra;” it’s an alternate, and the enormous difference between the two words means everything.
The March 2010 GAO report on the F-35 made it clear that security and taxpayers would benefit from engine competition. If administered properly — by a Pentagon that has embraced a Total Quality Management and Six Sigma approach to contract management — competitive engines would save money.
Millions have already been spent on the GE/RR engine and continued competition for two engines will cost about $5B (only 8% of the remaining completion budget of $63B.) A savings of only 10% from competition could negate additional expenditures in as few as four years.
The GAO also predicted competition would provide vital non-budgetary benefits including accelerated timetables, increased innovation and contractor responsiveness.
Because the JSF is a one-engine plane, there is no room for error. Either engine “plugs in” easily, and if a flaw were found in one design, an alternative would be available immediately to avoid grounding the entire fleet — the mainstay of our air defense.
Both engines are designed under military specifications with the same mission critical capability and repair cost ratios.
While threats to American security increase, President Obama has aggressively cut military spending and classifies the alternate engine an “unnecessary expense.”
With cuts to many programs such as rescue helicopters and advanced transformational communications satellites, one wonders if this Administration considers our entire military infrastructure an “unnecessary expense.”
The Defense Department budget focus is to be good stewards of monies awarded. Secretary Gates obeys his boss, as does the chain of command under him. Air Force leaders don’t need to be distracted from operational readiness to play political ping-pong in an engine-purchasing dustup.
Last summer, the Associated Press analyzed 570 Pentagon contracts for base repairs and concluded millions of dollars were saved through competition. At the same time, President Obama promised taxpayers “by ending no bid contracts … we can save up to $40B every year.”
I don’t know anyone at P&W, GE or Rolls Royce. But the survivability of my USAF ROTC son could someday depend on the reliability of an F-35 engine. I care – and the American people would too if provided with the facts and risks.
Competition works, and nowhere is it more critical than when billions of dollars and military readiness are at stake. We must have a serious conversation on the importance of having two engines available for the one-engine fighter that will comprise 90% of our air security by 2035.
President Obama recently released his contracting reform initiative, claiming it will “change the way Washington does business” by “increasing competition and reducing high-risk contract practices.”
Sounds good. The Joint Strike Fighter would be a good start.
Kerri Toloczko is Senior Vice President for Policy at the Institute for Liberty and her son is a Liberty University cadet with Virginia AFROTC Detachment 890.