Pentagon orders work stopped on jet engine in Ohio

AP News
Posted: Mar 24, 2011 6:18 PM
Pentagon orders work stopped on jet engine in Ohio

The Defense Department on Thursday ordered work to stop on an alternate engine being developed at a GE Aviation plant in southwest Ohio for the Pentagon's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet.

The Obama administration and the department strongly oppose the program, and the president's fiscal 2012 budget proposal to Congress does not include funding for it.

"In our view it is a waste of taxpayer money that can be used to fund higher departmental priorities, and should be ended now," the department said in a statement.

The F136 engine is being developed by GE Aviation, a General Electric Co. unit outside Cincinnati. Fairfield, Conn.-based GE makes the engine with London-based Rolls-Royce. The jet's main engine is built by Connecticut-based Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies Corp.

GE Aviation spokesman Rick Kennedy said the Defense Department took action with Congress still working to complete the 2011 budget, and the company will continue to "self-fund the project through this crisis."

Kennedy says the engine's congressional supporters encouraged the company to continue the self-funding while they complete the budget process for 2011.

"We feel so strongly, because the consequences of canceling this program are enormous," he said.

The program is linked to about 1,000 jobs at the GE Aviation plant in the Cincinnati suburb of Evendale.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who strongly supports the program, said the Senate's approval last week of a stopgap appropriations bill fully funds programs _ including the engine program _ at previous levels through April 8.

"The Pentagon may be on the other side of the Potomac River, but it's not on an island," Brown said in a statement. "It has to follow the laws like everybody else."

Eliminating funds for the Joint Strike Fighter wastes billions of taxpayer dollars and threatens national security, Brown said.

He said the Defense Department "cannot thumb its nose at Congress and decide whether it will or will not obligate spending that has been signed into law by the president."

Ohio's Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman said the Obama administration is "attempting an end run around Congress" and that he would work to restore funding.

"Competition, not sole-sourced contracts, is what will drive down costs and serve the taxpayers' best interest in the long run," Portman said in a statement.

The Defense Department also pointed to a bill approved last month by the House of Representatives to cancel $450 million for the engine as another reason for its decision. That bill did not win Senate approval.

U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and U.S. Rep. John Larson, D-Conn., praised the department's decision in a statement Thursday, with Larson describing the alternate engine as "the epitome of government waste." They had urged Defense Secretary Robert Gates to terminate the GE program that they say has cost taxpayers almost $1 million a day and would cost an additional $3 billion to complete development.

Kennedy said it would cost only about $1 billion to complete development, with an extra $800 million required to start production.

The stop-work order will remain in place for at least 90 days, pending final resolution of the program's future, the department said.


AP Business Writer Stephen Singer in Hartford, Conn., contributed to this report.