A costly repair kit for military aircraft that features washers priced at $229.94 each and tiny aluminum braces at $194.97 stirred the powerful chief of a congressional investigative subcommittee to anger Wednesday.
Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the House oversight and investigations subcommittee, held up a half-dozen of the high-priced items that are part of a “crash repair kit” for C-5B transport aircraft bought by the Air Force from Lockheed.
“Taxpayers are being skinned,” he protested.
Dingell asked auditors whether the parts were not existing items from Lockheed’s shelves that might have already been paid for as part of the original aircraft order.
“Why shouldn’t we call this fraud,” Dingell demanded while questioning Harry Finley, the General Accounting Office’s director of Air Force issues. The GAO is the investigative arm for Congress.
Finley said the GAO was not investigating whether there was fraud, which would require evidence of intent to misrepresent and damages, but would send its final report to the Defense Department.
In response to Dingell’s questions, Finley said he could not say whether the expensive brass washer was a common hardware item but added: “My wife told me that this morning.”
The C-5 is the Air Force’s biggest aircraft, used for transporting outsize cargo across long distances.
Three of the aircraft have crashed, which led the Air Force to contract for two crash damage kits at a cost of $68.6 million.
Dingell charged that the repair kit order “involves virtually every sorry facet of defense contracting.
“We have a costly acquisition with no justification, a conflict of interest, the revolving door, apparent fraud, outrageous prices, overpricing and a good example of the impotence of civilian control of the military,” he said.
The Air Force Office of Special Investigations has begun a criminal investigation of the colonel who authorized purchase of the kits shortly before going to work for Lockheed.
Finley said the GAO has concluded that the colonel did not comply with federal conflict-of-interest laws in doing so.
Maj. Gen. Richard Smith, deputy chief of staff for the office of material management for the Air Force’s logistics command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, said the C-5 was “a national asset” and the repair kits “a reasonable price to pay” for ensuring parts were available to keep the plane in the air.
Smith told the subcommittee that the brass washers were not common hardware items but were machined to a special shape and were a vital part of the aircraft.
“We will recover better than twice our investment in repair parts when the first crash-damaged aircraft is restored to fly again,” he said, adding that Lockheed’s price proposals for the kits would be closely monitored.