Congress has supposedly banned earmarks. However, since the ban, billions of dollars in pet projects were added in the fiscal year 2011 budget which was just finalized last month. Earmarks exemplify government’s inability to prioritize and live within its means, and no project is more emblematic of this out-of-control spending than the alternate engine for the Joint Strike Fighter.
Designed to create an affordable substitute for current jet fighters, the Joint Strike Fighter is heralded as the future of fighter jets. The jet is presently equipped with an F-135 engine developed by the Connecticut based company, Pratt & Whitney. In 1996, Congress decided that they were not satisfied with the Pratt & Whitney design and appropriated $7 million to pay General Electric/Rolls Royce for an alternate engine. The Pentagon agreed and requested funding for the program from 1997 until 2006.
In 2007, the Pentagon decided that an additional engine was no longer necessary and ended funding for the program. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense William Balderson said that the department was “very comfortable” with the current engine and that the F-135 was “performing very well.” Despite Balderson’s report, Congress decided to continue funding work on the engine.
President Obama also voiced his opposition to the program, highlighting the alternate engine as a prominent example of government waste. When speaking of the program, Obama said, “The Defense Department is already pleased with the engine it has. The engine it has works. The Pentagon does not want and does not plan to use the alternative version.” Both Defense Secretary Robert Gates and former President George W. Bush have also openly criticized the program.
Despite the bi-partisan agreement that the alternative engine is a waste of money, Congress continued pumping taxpayer dollars into the program. In fact, the engine has received $1.2 billion in earmarks from 2004 to 2010. The total cost of the alternate engine is expected to eclipse $3 billion.
This March, in response to the continued funding, the Department of Defense released a stop work order on the engine. The order declared the expenditure of $1 million a day on an extra engine as “unneeded and wasteful.” With all of the opposition to the project, and the Pentagon’s outright refusal to support the second engine, it is hard to imagine that this project would continue.
However, recent action has been taken to revive the alternative engine. GE has proposed spending its own money on the program in order to push forward development. Last week, the Armed Services subcommittee passed legislation that would require the Pentagon to reopen the bidding for the project if Pratt & Whitney asked for more money to complete the engine.
Our defense programs must receive the funding necessary to develop new and innovative tools to keep Americans safe. However, the $3 billion alternate engine will siphon away much-needed defense dollars that could be spent protecting American lives. While GE Aviation has proposed spending more than $100 million to continue the work, that is only a small segment of the estimated $1 billion required to finish the engine. It seems that, ultimately, the American taxpayer will be asked to foot a $900 million bill for an engine we don’t need.
As the vote on the alternative engine funding draws closer, it is time our representatives in Congress kept their word to the American people. With our nation’s debt spiraling out of control, our leaders in Washington must commit to spending taxpayer dollars in the most effective and efficient way possible.
As taxpayers, we must hold lawmakers responsible. It is our money that they are spending and it is up to us to make sure they spend it correctly. With daily threats to the safety of Americans both at home and abroad, there are many more appropriate ways to spend billions of dollars than on an engine that we don’t need and our military doesn’t want.