Members of Conn. Delegation Request Briefing on Marine-1 Cost Over-runs

Feb 11, 2009 Issues: Homeland Security

Washington, DC – Members of Connecticut’s Congressional delegation, in a letter to Navy Secretary Donald C. Winter, requested a detailed report and briefing as soon as possible on the VH-71 Presidential Helicopter Replacement Program. The highly skilled workers of Sikorsky, a Connecticut-based company, have manufactured Marine One since President Eisenhower first utilized helicopters for presidential transport in the 1950s.  Despite Sikorsky’s strong track-record, in 2005, the Pentagon selected an international consortium to build a new generation of Presidential aircraft, which now faces significant cost overruns, design changes and delivery delays. In requesting the briefing, the Members would like to understand the Department of Defense’s analyses of the program and to raise any questions or concerns, particularly with their consideration of alternatives.

The letter stems from DoD’s official declaration in January that the program breached the Nunn-McCurdy law for excessive cost growth, requiring the Defense Secretary to file a report to Congress and to certify that the program meets certain criteria to continue going forward when there are cost overruns of 25 percent. This comes nearly a year after the Pentagon announced that the program would cost $11.2 billion – a 50 percent increase from the original $6.5 billion estimate.

“We write to express our concern regarding the significant cost overruns associated with the VH-71 Presidential Helicopter Replacement Program," the lawmakers write in the letter. “We therefore respectfully request a thorough report, coupled with a briefing, on the development plans for this program, including an analysis of the potential advantages of either re-opening the contract for bidding or requiring split-production between Lockheed Martin and the incumbent contractor.”

Below is the text of the letter.

February 11, 2009

The Honorable Donald C. Winter
Secretary of the Navy
1000 Navy Pentagon
Washington, D.C. 20350-1000

Dear Secretary Winter:

            We write to express our concern regarding the significant cost overruns associated with the VH-71 Presidential Helicopter Replacement Program.  As you know, the Department of Defense announced that the total acquisition cost is projected to increase from $6.5 billion to $11.2 billion, raising the cost per helicopter by 50 percent above the original estimate.  We respectfully request detailed information on this recent Nunn-McCurdy breach, including various options to modify or re-open the contract for bidding, as mandated in the FY2009 National Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 110-417).

            We are very supportive of the Defense Department’s initiative to ensure that programs are held accountable to their projected budgets and timelines.  Secretary Gates specifically mentioned the VH-71 as a “big ticket” item experiencing contract or program performance problems.  Likewise, President Obama noted that the program’s cost represents, “a lot of money, even for Washington,” and promised to “take a close look at it,” identifying this program as emblematic “of some of the systematic problems we have in Pentagon procurement.”

As you know, Lockheed Martin was awarded the contract without any experience building helicopters, winning the contract over the incumbent contractor, Sikorsky.  Sikorsky has manufactured Marine One since President Eisenhower first utilized helicopters for presidential transport in the 1950s.  The company fulfilled these contracts without exceeding the projected budget or failing to meet required timelines and milestones.   Sikorsky is a tested and proven prime contractor for the Marine One fleet.  In addition, Sikorsky maintains the most stringent security requirements for its Marine One aircraft and facilities, with minimal reliance on foreign components and designs. 

We therefore respectfully request a thorough report, coupled with a briefing, on the development plans for this program, including an analysis of the potential advantages of either re-opening the contract for bidding or requiring split-production between Lockheed Martin and the incumbent contractor.  We believe that such an analysis of alternatives will present a clear option for the Department of Defense to eventually develop Marine One aircraft on time and on budget.

We thank you in advance for keeping us apprised of the Navy’s decision-making process and look forward to receiving a detailed report, as well as a briefing on the matter, as soon as possible.  Like you, we believe that there are few more sensitive and more important national security concerns than the safe transport of our nation’s chief executive.  When the President travels on this aircraft, it becomes a critical information node, with vital data coming in, and the most important decisions being meted out.  We hope that you will provide us with a workable plan for delivering the highest quality aircraft with the highest security standards.  Our President and our nation deserve no less.

If you have any questions regarding this or any other issue, please do not hesitate to contact us or our staff. Thank you for your consideration.

 

Sincerely,

CHRISTOPHER J. DODD
United States Senator
                                       
ROSA L. DeLAURO
United States Representative

JOHN B. LARSON                                     
United States Representative                        

JOE COURTNEY
United States Representative

CHRISTOPHER S. MURPHY                   
United States Representative

JAMES A. HIMES
United States Representative

Cc:
The Honorable Robert M. Gates
Secretary of Defense

The Honorable John Young
Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics

Mr. Sean J. Stackley
Assistant Secretary of the Navy Research, Development & Acquisition

                                                                       
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