The Defense Department is wasting at least $200 million a year maintaining an unnecessary fleet of 600 VIP aircraft for senior officers, members of Congress and other government officials, a General Accounting Office report says.
The GAO study was commissioned by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., who urged that the fleet of some 500 fixed-wing aircraft and 100 helicopters be cut by half.
“The bottom line is this,” Grassley said. “Too many planes, too many helicopters, too many users and too many taxpayer dollars.”
Earlier this year, the commanding officers of the four armed services told the Senate Armed Services Committee that because of deficit pressures on defense spending, they didn’t have enough money to maintain combat readiness and modernize their equipment and weaponry.
DeFazio said he will introduce legislation to reduce the special service “operational support airlift” fleet by one-third, at an estimated savings of $130 million to $200 million a year.
Ultimately, half the aircraft in the fleet would be removed from service and sold as excess, he said.
Grassley and DeFazio asked for the GAO study in December 1994, after disclosures that the Pentagon spent more than $120,000 just to fly Air Force Gen. Joseph Ashy, an aide and the general’s cat from Italy to Colorado in a C-141 cargo jet.
According to the report, the Pentagon spends an average of $380 million a year to make between 1,000 and 1,800 of the VIP flights a month. The GAO said many of the flights could be made on commercial jets or civilian aircraft under contract to the government.
The worst misuse involved generals, admirals or civilian officials using military helicopters to fly from Washington or the Pentagon to nearby Andrews Air Force Base, Md., a distance of about 15 miles.
The helicopter flights to Andrews take about 24 minutes at an hourly operating cost of $1,616, while the trip runs between 15 to 50 minutes by car, depending on the hour of travel, the GAO said.
DeFazio said that between November 1993 and March 1994, taxpayers were billed nearly half a million dollars just to fly Air Force Academy and West Point cadets to two football games on special military jets.
Grassley said that officials, instead of being transported like ordinary troops when on the special flights, are accorded “luxury comfort pallets” or modules that are fitted into cargo aircraft to provide privileged passengers first-class accommodations.
He said he has sent a letter to the Defense Department’s inspector general asking why the price of these pallets “has mysteriously jumped from $300,000 to $750,000.”
Complaints about the special service date to the mid-1980s, when it was disclosed that the Air Force was wasting millions of dollars flying important senators and House members to their home states and to balloon festivals in Europe.
The military has sought to justify its VIP operations by noting that it provides Air Force One service for the president and that many of the aircraft are needed in time of war to provide vital communications for commanders.
According to the report, the Defense Department needed only 9 percent of the special airplanes and helicopters during the Persian Gulf war.
The GAO surveyed all VIP operations between October 1992 and March 1995, noting that the Pentagon spent $1.135 billion on special flights during that period.
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