Chambliss goes into battle for Pentagon's request for F-22A

Saxby Chambliss is going against the grain.

The Georgia Republican senator, a member of the Armed Services Committee, introduced an amendment Thursday to reverse a committee decision and restore the Pentagon’s request for multiyear procurement of the F-22A Raptor.

When the panel marked up the 2007 defense authorization bill, it included a provision prohibiting the Air Force from entering a multiyear arrangement for the aircraft or paying incrementally for the fighter jets.

As part of its budget request, the Air Force wanted to begin procurement for 60 F-22A aircraft over a three-year period starting in 2008 to keep the production lines open beyond 2010. The service only included a $2 billion request for parts necessary for building the planes in coming years and no money to buy the actual aircraft in fiscal year 2007.

But the panel’s Airland Subcommittee, chaired by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), decided to fund an additional $1.4 billion for procurement of 20 Raptors in 2007 and to prohibit both incremental funding and multiyear procurement. Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the full committee, agreed with the subcommittee’s plan when his panel marked up the bill.

But now Chambliss, who represents the state where Lockheed Martin is building the fighter jet, is trying to reverse that decision and gain support for the multiyear procurement idea. And he has Lockheed Martin on his side. Lockheed’s in-house lobbying shop sent an e-mail Thursday afternoon to all Senate offices urging a yes vote for the amendment.

The practice is common among industry lobbyists. Senators can introduce amendments at any time without needing to go through a Rules Committee process, unlike House members. If lobbyists know that the amendment will be submitted they start trying to garner support among Senate offices.

The Lockheed e-mail included Chambliss’s amendment as well as several issue papers backing the idea of multiyear procurement.

The amendment has eight original co-sponsors: Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah); Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.); James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a member of Armed Services, Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.); John Cornyn (R-Texas); John Thune (R-S.D.); Robert Bennett (R-Utah); and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), the powerful chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.

Stevens’s panel has not marked up the 2007 bill, but his support for the amendment could indicate that he approves of the plan for multiyear procurement.
Others co-sponsoring the amendment include Sens. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), a senior appropriator. While Georgia has a significant stake in the F-22, the production of the aircraft spans multiple states across the country.

Supporters of the amendment argue that it would save the government at least $250 million by producing the next 60 aircraft over several years rather than buying 20 aircraft each year.

The Pentagon also commissioned the independent Institute of Defense Analyses (IDA) to study whether the F-22, a costly and drawn-out program, qualifies for a multiyear procurement strategy. After both the House and the Senate Armed Services committees marked up the bill opposing the Pentagon’s request and adding $1.4 billion for 20 aircraft in 2007, the IDA concluded that the F-22 is a good candidate for such a strategy.

But Chambliss’s amendment does not jibe with congressional research and the opinion of a government watchdog.

In a report published earlier this spring, the Congressional Research Service said multiyear procurement will not save money but may avoid cost increases. The Government Accountability Office said the unit cost to procure the remaining Raptors increased 8 percent when comparing the fiscal year 2007 budget, using multiyear procurement, to the 2006 budget without multiyear procurement.

The 2006 budget also terminated the procurement of the F-22 in 2008, said the GAO, but the inefficiencies connected to extending the production through 2010 will add more than $1 billion to the budget.

At press time, Chambliss’s office expected the amendment to be debated today.