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No Dough For Weather Sat

Not only did the House Appropriations defense subcommittee call the administration's bluff on funding for the F-136 engine for the Joint Strike Fighter; it told the Defense Secretary to stuff money into the regular budget in the future.

The House approved $560 million for the second engine on Thursday and, in the report accompanying the defense spending bill, it told Robert Gates to include second engine funding in "future budget requests." That would mean that the administration could no longer play the shell game of knowing that Congress will include money for the second engine and thus leaving it out of the budget request, which frees up money for other uses.

The report argues that having two different companies build the two engines "is the most cost effective strategy" for the F-35 in the long run and repeats earlier statements that having only engine means any technical problems "could theoretically ground the entire fleet." The administration issued a wobbly sort-of veto threat in the Statement of Administration Policy about the House defense spending bill. With Pratt and Whitney facing cost increases and insufficient quality controls, the veto threat pretty much speaks for itself.

The House, as looked likely from the day the HAC-D released its markup, backed down on the F-22. Rep. Jack Murtha yielded quietly, offering an amendment that stripped all but $368 million of $1.75 billion slated for the Raptor. The amendment marks $64 million to pay for shutting down the F-22 production line and $139 million is marked for spare engines for Raptors and for C-17s. The remainder of the money goes for advanced targeting pods, radar development and LAIRCM kits for the Air National Guard.

In one of the most dramatic moves, the report says that all money for the NPOESS weather satellite program is frozen until the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics certifies in writing that the program is being managed "in compliance with" the Defense Department's acquisition rules and NASA, NOAA and DoD are all playing along as specified in a Dec. 18, 2008 memorandum the three government agencies signed.

As our readers know, this is one heck of a dysfunctional program. The Defense Department really wants to have nothing to do with NASA and NOAA any more and the appropriator's language reflects that. The administration requested $397 million for NPOESS. Neither the spending bill nor the report specifies how much NPOESS will receive, which is not uncommon.

But Murtha and his colleagues charged ahead of some other programs Gates wanted to kill, such as Northrop Grumman's Kinetic Energy Interceptor. The committee stuffed the stocking with $80 million, essentially accepting Northrop's arguments that they stay on schedule and perform a booster test with just a little more dough. It will be interesting to find out just how much money will go reopening the program offices since the government shut the program down on June 10.

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