Pentagon still determined to cut GE’s $3 billion redundant fighter jet engine, despite Immelt’s new administration post
Critics of the administration raised questions Friday about the timing of a continuation of funding for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Extra Engine, implying that GE CEO Jeff Immelt may have been named chair of the president’s new Council on Jobs and Competitiveness only after the White House agreed to extend funding for the project through March.
The administration dismissed this, saying that a December 21 letter from White House budget chief Jack Lew to Sen. Sherrod Brown, Ohio Democrat, was not an intervention that changed policy, but rather an explanation of existing policy.
And Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said in an interview that the Defense Department was as intent as ever on eliminating the program in the next several months.
“We’re still wrestling with how to proceed with the extra engine in this [continuing resolution] environment. But we are still committed to ultimately killing it,” Morrell said.
The CR is the means by which Congress has continued to fund government operations since last fall, when the Democratic-controlled House failed to pass any of the annual spending bills it is required to. The current CR expires in March, and Congress will have to decide whether to pass another one for the remainder of the fiscal year through September, or to go another route.
Morrell said that the Pentagon is able to strike the F-35 funding if the government is funded for the rest of the 2011 fiscal year with a CR.
“We don’t believe our hands are tied. We believe we have the latitude to fund or not fund. We are trying to make a decision in the short term how to deal with it,” he said. “Ultimately we are as determined as ever to kill it.”
Morrell pointed out that C-17 cargo planes were bought in past budgets, and could be purchased under the CR, but have not been.
Spending is being done on a “case by case basis,” he said. He said he could not comment on why the Pentagon had not just eliminated the program from the current CR.
But Morrell’s description of the administration having discretion to change and redirect spending under the CR runs counter to the line from the administration, that Lew’s December letter to Brown was simply stating the existing policy, and that all spending continued essentially unchanged from past appropriations.