Rep. Jack Murtha had insisted that his plan to divide the tanker buy between Boeing and Northrop Grumman would not only ensure the contract was not challenged but would actually save the country billions of dollars.
We all make mistakes and Murtha seems to have realized that he may have made one in this case. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the folks in the acquisition shop kept insisting that a split or dual buy would cost the country billions it can ill afford right now. Murtha had gone from supporting a split buy would ensure the country got capability to a split buy would actually save the country billions.
Murtha's spokesman wouldn't say much when I asked him why the powerful appropriator backed off the plan. "Chairman Murtha remains committed to working out a plan that gets tankers in the air faster. The Committee will address this issue in the coming months within the FY10 bill," he said in an email. He added that Murtha would offer more details on Monday to House Appropriation Committee members.
This reversal may well be a symptom of Murtha's declining influence in the light of what appear to be increasingly worrying legal problems faced by close supporters of his, including former Murtha staffer Paul Magliocchetti, who founded the former PMA Group. The company shut its doors at the end of March after the FBI raided its offices.
Yesterday the pressure grew a bit more as four good government groups, Democratic Democracy 21, Common Cause, Public Citizen and U.S. PIRG, called on the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to probe the relationship PMA had with Democratic Reps. John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, Peter J. Visclosky of Indiana and James P. Moran of Virginia. The lawmakers secured lucrative earmarks for defense contractors represented by The PMA Group and received political donations from family members of the lobbying firm’s founder.
One crucial thing to figure out in the next few days: did Gates win or did Murtha lose. If it's a Gates win, that would mark one big notch in the defense secretary's congressional cannon. Some evidence that industry feels Gates is the ascendancy: Lockheed Martin's declaration that it would not fight to the death to keep building F-22s. With the budget likely to come out at the end of next week or early the next week Congress will get the crucial numbers it needs to start analyzing Gates' decisions and something they can use to argue their own case.