DEFENDING AMERICA
David H. Hackworth
March 19, 1996

HOOKING THE TAXPAYER

Psst, psst, wanna buy a hook for $12,280 that any honest manufacturer could hammer out for only $389?

Of course, you wouldn't tolerate such a rip-off, but Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, Dick Gebhardt, Defense Secretary William Perry and the Air Force brass all seem blind to the defense contractors padding their bills. What the hell, it's not their money. Besides, spending big means votes from contented aircraft workers for Clinton in California, Gingrich in Georgia and Gebhardt in Missouri.

And, too, our sightless politicians can always count on something sweet from the defense moguls in their PAC socks, while many Pentagon operators cash in with high-paying defense jobs once they pass through the golden Military Industrial Congressional Complex's revolving door.

Hey, it's the American way of buying military hardware!

A draft General Accounting Office report says McDonnell Douglas charged the Air Force $12,280 for a 7-inch-by-4-inch steel cargo door hook for the new C-17 transport plane, a part originally costing $389. The C-17 has 34 of these hooks.

More McDonnell Douglas C-17 overcharges:

· A subcontractor made a 4-inch-by-2-inch aluminum hinge for the C-17's air conditioning system for $30.60, but when the company produced the hinge at its own St. Louis plant, the part zoomed to $2,187 a copy.

· Another subcontractor made a simple aluminum door handle for $60, but when the same part was made in Congressman Gebhardt's hometown, our sleazy defense contractor friends' had greeded it up to $1,206.

McDonnell Douglas has quietly reimbursed the Air Force $182,000 to cover some of the overcharges. In a world-class understatement, corporate spinmeister Rick Fuller said, "We probably charged them more than we should have.

The study looked at only 33 of the 4 million parts on the C-17. If just three out of 33 show such blatant overcharges, imagine what the GAO would find if it ran a fine-toothed comb through just this one plane's 4 million parts.

It's no small wonder the C- 17, the Cadillac of Air Force cargo planes, costs $350 million a pop, whereas the C-5 aircraft it's replacing cost only $95 million per aircraft in 1989.

When Clinton leaned on the Pentagon to increase the C-17 order from 40 to 120, he clearly overrode objections to the costly cargo aircraft - which is built in California, a state critical to his 1996 re-election efforts - to influence the vote. This buy will add 5,000 new jobs to the already 13,900 California C-17 work force, costing an extra $18 billion -enough money to platinum plate every fire hydrant in the United States of America.

Except for the production of political pork, the C-17 - which has suffered from costly overruns and production line delays - is not needed by our military in the big numbers Clinton has been pushing.

Retired Air Force Gen. Buster Glosson, a sharp critic of the Pentagon, says, "Fifty or 60 C-17s are critical and (are) needed, but I do not support buying additional airplanes."

Glosson was the key air planner during Desert Storm, where wide-body commercial aircraft like the Boeing 747 carried the bulk of the air freight. A 747 costs $120 million. Glosson asks, "Why should taxpayers buy additional C-17s for $230 million (more) a copy?"

The answer is votes, pork and defense contractor greed.

Gingrich could put the brakes on such rip-offs, but will he? Not in his current lifetime. He's the king of defense pork. The well-endowed citizens in his Georgia district get the biggest slice of defense spending bacon in the nation, almost $7,000 per head.

Sure Perry inherited a mess. Remember the $600 toilet seats and $7,400 coffee pots that happened on Caspar Weinberger's watch? But although Perry did promise to clean up the Pentagon, most of his procurement reforms have already flopped.

If Congress doesn't stop the MICC cheating and stealing, our armed forces will end up with hangars full of exotic wonder gear like the C-17. But the Pentagon will be so broke it won't have any infantry warriors left to fly to distant battlefields.