By ANDREW CASTELLANO and JON RAINWATER / For the Register
Imagine a government health care program more expensive than any other in U.S. history. Its major function is to treat polio, a disease that has been nearly nonexistent in the U.S. for decades. The cost per patient has doubled since the beginning of the program, and all the treatments were yanked from doctor’s offices after a critical flaw was discovered.
Congress would be hauling in administration officials for questioning. Deficit hawks would be sharpening their budget axes. Claims of malfeasance and fiscal irresponsibility would echo through the Capitol.
But when the boondoggle is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, many in Congress are happy to keep the cash flowing. Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Santa Ana, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein have committee spots that put them in position to help stop this program. In our current budget crunch, it would be irresponsible not to.
The F-35 is the most expensive weapons system in history. The estimated cost for purchasing the fleet has jumped 70 percent since 2001. The projected $1.5 trillion long-term cost of maintaining and operating the fleet dwarfs the automatic spending cuts that Congress is struggling to undo.
It’s a lot to pay for a weapons system that works, never mind one that doesn’t. The program has been plagued with problems, partly because contractors convinced the Pentagon to rush to production before test flights were done. Contractors claimed that this “concurrent development plan” would drive down the cost per plane. Instead, it’s turned into what Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer, described as “acquisition malpractice.” Earlier this year, the Pentagon grounded the entire fleet after an engine crack was found.
Still, Congress is considering $8.4 billion for the F-35 for just next year. The aircraft’s design flaws are reason enough to put the program on the chopping block, regardless of our budget situation. But this exorbitant spending isn’t happening in a vacuum.
According to a February report in this newspaper, the Orange County Department of Education is preparing for cuts from $13 million to $21 million due to sequestration. Sequester-related cuts would also eliminate Head Start and Early Head Start programs for 8,200 children. A $1.1 million cut to health services could leave 15,810 of California’s children without access to the vaccines they need.
All of these cuts are in sectors tat create jobs far more efficiently than spending on weapons systems. And they have a direct impact on the health and economic futures of residents of Orange County.
We don’t need an overpriced, underperforming, and unnecessary fighter jet. We hope that Rep. Sanchez and Sen. Feinstein will lead all of us in saying goodbye to the F-35.
Andrew Castellano is president of the Orange County-based Earthshine Foundation, which supports work on global arms control issues. Jon Rainwater is executive director of the Peace Education Fund.