CAGW Advises Congress Not to Ground Presidential Chopper — Press Release

by: Matthew Potter
May 20, 2009

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CAGW Advises Congress Not to Ground Presidential Chopper

WASHINGTON–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), the nation’s premier taxpayer watchdog organization, today expressed support for the continuation of the VH-71 Presidential Helicopter Program. President Obama included the program on the list of program terminations and reductions to the fiscal year (FY) 2010 budget, which he released on May 7, 2009 in a bid to whittle $17 billion out of his overall $3.6 trillion budget. The President had stated in February, 2009 that the helicopter he currently uses “seems perfectly adequate” and added, “I think it is an example of the procurement process gone amok. And we’re going to have to fix it.”

But even in his recommendation to terminate the program, Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledged that a new fleet of presidential helicopters is necessary due to the advanced age and technological limitations of the current fleet. In a post-9/11 world, there is broad consensus that the President should not be flying Vietnam-era technology.

“CAGW applauds the President’s desire to cut wasteful spending, but taxpayers are between a rock and a hard place on the helicopter issue,” said CAGW President Tom Schatz. “One of the most common axioms of aviation is that every takeoff is optional, but every landing is mandatory. The same could be said now about the $13 billion program to fund the new fleet of presidential helicopters.”

It has become increasingly clear that it won’t be as cost effective as it may have appeared to terminate the VH-71 program. More than $3 billion has already been invested in the program to cover the R&D and production costs of the first phase. Navy officials estimate that program termination and liability costs will be $555 million. Factoring in costs already incurred and shut-down fees, terminating the program now would leave taxpayers with nothing to show for nearly $4 billion – even though nine new aircraft have been produced that meet performance requirements. “This program is also another example of the rampant lack of realistic budgeting and absence of fiscal discipline in the Pentagon’s procurement process,” said Schatz.

More alarming, according to a recent memo prepared by House Armed Services Committee staff, the Navy has told Congress it will require billions of dollars to extend the life of the current fleet of presidential helicopters, which are already 35 years old, in order to keep them in operation for another decade until a new program can be devised. “In light of these facts,” said Schatz, “starting a do-over program from scratch would be even more costly than completing the current program – leaving the taxpayer to foot the bill twice rather than maximizing the current investment. Given the urgent security needs of the President and the massive amount of money that would be wasted should the Pentagon and the White House terminate the program at this late stage, the prudent course would be to move forward, take possession of the helicopters we have paid for, and find a responsible solution both for the taxpayer and the Office of the President.”

Citizens Against Government Waste is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement in government.

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