Lawmakers Catfight Over District Jobs, Price Seems To Have
Lockheed Martin, legendary for cost overruns*, may have set a
new record, and the bill isn't even out of the Senate yet.
According to multiple news reports, the $1.7 billion VHXX
helicopter contract is now a $6.1 billion project. The bill
authorizing the procurement of the new presidential helicopter is
stalled by the parliamentary tactics of Senator Chris Dodd,
D-Connecticut, who is upset that home-state Sikorsky did not
receive the contract. This prompted a counterattack by New York
senators, who are hoping to claim credit for assembly jobs that
will be created at Bell, a Lockheed Martin partner in the contract,
in depressed upstate Oswego.
The 23 EH101 helicopters (below) to be built in the US as
badge-engineered Lockheed Martin US101 models apparently will now
cost the taxpayers $265,217,391 each. Oh, and thirty cents. There
is no precedent for a $260 million helicopter -- Even Lockheed's
last helicopter, the massive-overrun-laden AH-56A Cheyenne of the
sixties, wouldn't have cost that much in today's dollars. The V-22
is only $120 mil.
While simple assembly work would take place in the US, the
helicopter's transmission and rotor blades would still be made
overseas, and of course the highly paid design and engineering jobs
will remain in AgustaWestland's home countries.
Dodd's maneuver was to attach an amendment to another bill that
requires companies accepting work on the helicopters to certify
that they do not do business with terrorist-sponsoring states. Some
of the contractors that work on these helicopters for Lockheed
Martin's European partners do significant business with Iran. Most
news media haven't reported it, but according to the Congressional
Record, Dodd was joined in sponsoring the amendment by
Connecticut's other Senator, Joseph Lieberman (D).
This is all about the Benjamins, although you'd never know it
from the rhetoric being exchanged, which ranged from blatantly
insincere patriotic jingoism to schoolyard outrage. Dodd: "There
are few more sensitive and more important national security
concerns than the safe transport of our nation's chief executive."
Senator Charles Schumer, D-NY, referring to Dodd's amendment: "It
was a sneak attack. We knew nothing about it." Senator Hillary
Clinton, D-NY: "We said we're going to stay here, we're not going
anywhere, we won it fair and square!" The only thing missing was
"niener niener niener!"
Schumer and Clinton were able to block the entire bill by a
parliamentary maneuver. Most Republicans seemed to enjoy the
spectacle of a food fight between prominent Democratic Senators,
but they're involved, too. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman
John Warner (R-VA) has pledged to get the bill back on track. Of
course, there are jobs in Warner's state on the Lockheed side of
the squabble, also.
At this point, the most probable
outcome is that the bill will pass As Aero-News has previously
reported, after a long, involved, and mostly classified evaluation
by the US Navy, the EH101 was selected as the next "Marine One"
presidential helicopter. According to Sikorsky insiders, they were
told that the new helicopter needed to accept a piece of classified
equipment that fit in the LockheedMartin/AgustaWestland machine,
but didn't fit in the slightly smaller Sikorsky S-92. (So why have
a competition if the result is known in advance, you might ask? The
answer to that is, apparently, also classified). Sikorsky,
though, decided not to appeal the award to Lockheed Martin --
whether it was that they accepted that statement, or simply figured
you can't beat a stacked deck, is anyone's guess.
There has been great international interest in this contract.
Prime Ministers Berlusconi and Blair, allies in Iraq at great
personal political cost, lobbied President Bush aggressively on the
contract. Berlusconi brought it up during a December press
conference, lightheartedly pointing out that he'd been flying on
Italian helicopters for thirty years and it hadn't done him any
He probably wasn't asking Italians to pay $265,217,391 for them.
And thirty cents.
*Most people had never heard the term "cost overrun" before
about 1969. It was coined to deal with the out-of-control C-5A
cargo plane project, managed by Lockheed, and also applied to the