- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 6, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

When President Oba-ma released his fiscal 2011 budget last week, there were a few nuggets of waste that made his list of spending cuts. One of the largest is the elimination of the alternate engine for the Joint Strike Fighter, a $7.2 billion boondoggle that is being kept alive by a small number of pork-barrel-loving members of Congress.

The program terminations and reductions total $23 billion over one year and $240 billion over 10 years. As usual, they will face objections from members of Congress who seek to protect their turf and promote their re-election. The spending cuts are worth supporting, but they fall far short of what’s possible. Our research shows the president could have cut 10 times as much in the first year, adding up to more than $2 trillion in just five years.

The president’s budget agrees with analysis on 65 recommendations totaling $11.9 billion, including the termination of the F136 alternate engine, which would save $465 million in the first year. The project has been opposed by the Department of Defense and both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations. Nonetheless, Congress has earmarked $1.2 billion for the program since 2004, one of the largest single earmarks in the appropriations bills.

In its analysis of the alternate engine in its “Terminations, Reductions, and Savings” report for fiscal 2011, the Office of Management and Budget asserted that the Joint Strike Fighter’s F135 main engine program is progressing well, the second engine is “unnecessary,” savings from competition would not make up for the high costs of the F136 program, and canceling the alternate engine program would ” … result in near-term savings of over a billion dollars.”

According to retired Air Force Gen. John Michael Loh, “The current engine in the F-35 is in production and exceeding expectations. It has a strong pedigree as a variant of the F-22 engine. That engine, the Pratt & Whitney F119, has been one of the most successful engine development- and-production programs in history. It is three times safer and more reliable than its predecessor, the F100 engine. There is no reason to expect a catastrophic failure that would necessitate an alternate engine.”

Ultimately, buying two engines for the same plane means buying fewer planes. Gen. Mark Shackelford testified in June before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Airland that funding the alternate engine means the Pentagon will have to forgo building 53 additional F-35s.

The F136 program also has faced substantial technical problems. In October, testing on the alternate engine was halted when a nut came loose, damaging turbine blades in the engine. Then, in November, Reuters news agency reported that deliveries of the engine would be delayed by one year. According to Reuters, “A second source familiar with the program said it made sense to delay work on GE-Rolls production engines given that the team had only completed 52 hours of testing on its F136 engine, far below the 350 to 400 hours expected by this point.”

Last year, Sen. John Kerry and Rep. John Tierney, both Massachusetts Democrats, were among a handful of legislators who pushed to include $465 million for the alternate engine in the conference report on the fiscal 2010 Department of Defense Appropriations Act. Even the hometown Boston Globe criticized the two porkers, saying that they have a “responsibility to draw a line when it comes to projects that are wasteful or unnecessary.”

Massachusetts has been in the headlines since the election of Scott Brown to the Senate on Jan. 19. Taxpayers can hope he will make the responsible choice and vote against the alternate engine based on the overwhelming evidence that there is no military or fiscal reason to fund the program. Last year, 59 of his soon-to-be colleagues agreed to an amendment to eliminate funding for the program in the fiscal 2010 Defense Authorization Act.

The alternate engine is the latest in a long line of unneeded and expensive earmarks that are supported by only a handful of legislators. Members of Congress are not agreeing on much of anything, but it would be a sound military and fiscal decision to stop funding the alternate engine in the upcoming budget process.

Tom Schatz is president of Citizens Against Government Waste, whose new report, 2010 Prime Cuts, has 763 recommendations that would save $2.2 trillion over five years.


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