I worry that false economy will supplant real forward thinking. Take the annual meeting of Army Aviation Association of America, known as "Quad A," which took place recently. This annual event is valuable to industry and government as they work together to achieve innovation and efficiency in a critical area of national defense. The organization never has charged military officers to attend their event and yet the Defense Department was so concerned about the optics that military personnel could only attend the event by taking a vacation day, driving themselves to Fort Worth, Texas where it was held and slipping in wearing civilian clothes. For what was “saved” by limiting travel cost, the absence of many Army officers who should have been there will end up costing the service down the road and the taxpayers missed an opportunity to find important ways to save tax dollars in support of those who defend us.
As a former chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and a current member of the EADS North America board, I frequently hear about examples of sequestration-think that focuses people on the wrong thing. For example, following an incident of mishandling nuclear weapons, a U.S. Air Force study recommended, among other things, the immediate upgrade of some obsolete Vietnam-era UH-1 helicopters used for logistics, crew transport and security at ballistic missile bases. Since then, the Air Force has been deferring this project hoping to buy modern Blackhawk helicopters as replacements eventually. Instead, they could buy Lakota Light Utility Helicopters for less than third of the cost of a Blackhawk and do the job of the old Hueys substantially better and at a fraction of the cost of current operations. In recent days Air Force personnel have visited the production facility in Columbus, Mississippi. Perhaps this option learned at the price of a plane ticket will now gain enough traction to save millions.
This helicopter production plant is precisely the kind of place that our government ought to be using as an example of how to do things right. It has delivered over 250 Lakota aircraft for the U.S. military -- every one of which has been produced on time and on budget. It is performing well in all its missions -- whether US border security, Army logistics, Navy test range support, or National Guard emergency service missions. The Lakota is the most affordable twin-engine aircraft in the U.S. military inventory to buy and operate with the highest mission capable rate of any aviation platform – when our troops are ready to fly, this machine is always ready to go. A good part of the reason that the aircraft quality is so high is that more than half of the workforce at the production plant are military veterans. They know who they are building these aircraft for and they know that they can’t risk putting our military personnel in harms way by doing anything less than a first rate job building first rate helicopters.
You would think the Pentagon would be rewarding this kind of flawless fiscal efficiency and mission success and trying to replicate it elsewhere -- but you would be wrong. Instead, this is one of the programs slated for termination. We seem to continue seeking out false economies and finding ways to establish requirements and expectations that exceed our resources and grasp.
The sequester-think is costing us more than the amount of the across the board cut – it’s dumbing us down.
Skelton served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 17 terms and was chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.