Donald Trump suggested yesterday that the federal government should cancel its plans to upgrade the presidential Boeing VC-25, known as Air Force One. Trump cited cost overruns and a $4 billion price tag as the reason for his desire to cancel the order. A March report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) placed the cost at $3.2 billion. There are actually two presidential VC-25s, with one of them receiving the call sign “Air Force One” only when the president is on board.
Cost overruns in federal programs and acquisitions are a persistent problem. It is encouraging that President-elect Trump is signalling he will follow through on his campaign pledge to target waste, fraud, and abuse in the budget. The Cato Institute has reported on how federal projects often end up costing more than twice the amount they were initially estimated to cost because estimated costs are purposefully underestimated t in order to make approval of the project more likely. Additionally, estimations don’t typically take into account unexpected costs or errors. In other words, there is rarely a rainy-day fund built into the project cost estimate.
President-elect Trump’s openness to this kind of waste reduction is a positive sign which should be followed up by legislation to reduce the frequency of waste of federal funds to the greatest extent possible. This is especially true given another campaign pledge of Trump’s to boost defense spending by at least $16 billion per year. Increases in government oversight tend to have significant financial benefits; Scott Amey of Project on Government Oversight (POGO) testified to Congress in 2009 that Presidential Inspectors General returned $9.49 for each dollar appropriated to them.
There have been efforts to address the issue of waste, especially when it comes to defense acquisitions for products such as Air Force One. In 2015, Congressman Thornberry introduced H.R. 1597, The Agile Acquisition to Retain Technological Edge Act. While this proposal attempted to address the issue of acquisition reform, watchdog groups such as POGO retained significant concerns about whether or not the bill would truly address the problems in the acquisitions process.
Increased competition and oversight in acquisitions such as for Air Force One would ensure that taxpayers are getting the best value for the best product.