WASHINGTON – The White House budget office has asked the Pentagon to consider delaying the purchase of aerial refueling tankers by five years, a move that reflects the constraints of drawing up a budget in the midst of a recession, according to two sources familiar with the administration’s discussions.
The possible delay in one of the Pentagon’s most expensive programs is one of a number of options the administration is weighing, the sources said. No final budget decisions have been made, officials said.
Postponing the purchase of the tankers, which would replace a fleet that dates to the Eisenhower administration, will draw fierce opposition from the defense industry and many members of Congress, whose districts have tens of thousands of jobs related to the program.
It comes as the administration is considering which programs to include in its 2010 defense spending request to Congress next month, and as it grapples with a broken Pentagon procurement system that has led to about $300 billion in cost overruns on 95 major weapons systems compared with initial estimates.
President Obama last month unveiled a general budget plan calling for $534 billion in defense spending. That was $50 billion less than what the Joint Chiefs of Staff had argued was needed.