If cutting spending was the equivalent of the NCAA basketball tournament then the costly F-35 alternative engine program would be the ultimate Cinderella story. I’m not talking about the feel-good “small school taking on the big boys” type Cinderella, mind you, I’m talking about the “how in the world did they last this long with that kind of talent” type of Cinderella.
Fortunately for taxpayers, the F-35 Cinderella may have just been bounced from the competition to reduce our nation’s overspending problem. Having survived a White House veto, numerous congressional budget battles, and a bombardment of bills to defund the program, the Pentagon may have finally put an end to the alternative engine project.
Yesterday, the U.S. Defense Department issued a 90-day stop-work order to General Electric and Rolls-Royce, temporarily halting development of a second engine for the F-35. In a statement announcing the decision, the Pentagon called the program a “waste of taxpayer money that can be used to fund higher departmental priorities.”
This should come as great news to taxpayers who have been shelling out nearly $1 million a day to fund an engine program that many in Congress don’t want and the Defense Department says it does not need. Given this year’s $1.65 trillion deficit it simply makes no fiscal or logistical sense to continue to fund two design teams, two supply chains, and two production sites for what is expected to be no performance gains. If made permanent, ending the alternative engine program could save taxpayers up to $3 billion over the next 5 years.
The National Taxpayers Union has long pushed for this result, arguing that although the added competition may have achieved marginal potential savings, it would have come with enormous upfront cost to taxpayers. More recently NTU supported an amendment to H.R. 1 that would have stripped funding for the F-35 alternative engine, saving taxpayers $450 million over the remainder of the fiscal year. Although the 90-day stoppage is by no means a lasting solution, it is a long overdue step towards fiscal sustainability.
Having now survived two successive Presidential administrations, both of which have tried to eliminate its funding, the alternative engine program is a testament to the durability of pork. Fortunately, it’s Cinderella run appears over and taxpayers are all the better because of it.