Three Senators Ask Secretary Gates to Clarify C-17 Policies

Three Senators sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates questioning whether the Pentagon plans to buy additional C-17 aircraft despite the Air Force failing to budget for them, and requested that Secretary Gates clarify the policy and practices governing the procurement of C-17 Globemaster III aircraft.

“We write to you to express our concerns that the policies, practices and procedures governing acquisition may have been violated recently in the C-17 Globemaster program,” said the Gates letter from Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Seapower, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), ranking member of the Committee on Armed Services, and Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management.

The Senators’ letter was sent in response to news reports that Boeing Corp. has instructed its suppliers to begin work on long lead-time parts for new C-17s.  Boeing, in a statement issued on June 19, 2007, cited “increased bipartisan congressional support,” and “increasing signs that the U.S. Air Force has requirement for 30 additional C-17s.”

The United States’ current strategic airlift fleet consists of a mix of C-5s and C-17s, which transport supplies, weapons and troops, and enable the U.S. military to respond to threats in real-time.

In their letter, Sens. Kennedy, McCain, and Carper said these developments are surprising and that Boeing’s actions are troubling.

“The government has taken no action, such as validating a requirement for additional C-17s, formally asking for additional funding for the same, or obtaining congressional approval of a follow-on procurement for more C-17s that would appear to merit such action,” the senators said. “The Air Force has informed us that it does not intend to request funding for additional C-17s in next year’s budget.”

The Senators questioned whether the Air Force may have induced Boeing to take the business risk of ordering the C-17 parts to keep production lines open until the company receives a new Air Force production order.

“Such inducement would be inappropriate, especially if it exposes taxpayers to liability in the event that Congress declines to purchase additional C-17 aircraft,” the letter said.

Sen. Kennedy said: “I’m concerned that the Air Force may have acted improperly on C-17 production. Any circumvention of acquisition statutes or regulations is unacceptable, especially in this time of war and tight budgets. A single additional C-17 costs taxpayers $278 million.”

Sen. Carper said: “The question we want answered is whether the Air Force is planning to expand its C-17 program beyond what’s been proposed to Congress or authorized by Congress.  If the Air Force plans to buy more C-17s, then why hasn’t it requested this additional funding from Congress?  If the Air Force does not plan to buy more C-17s, then why is Boeing instructing its suppliers to resume work on parts to build 10 new C-17s?”

The Senators requested all communications the Air Force or Defense Department may have had concerning any request for more aircraft. They seek Secretary Gates’ response by Monday, July 30, to limit Boeing’s “incurring costs on a procurement that has not been formally requested by the Air Force or approved by Congress.”

“In addition, we believe you should act quickly to clarify the Department’s position on future purchases of C-17s in order to avoid further confusion,” the Senators concluded, and followed with five specific questions to elicit this clarification.