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Firms Are Playing Defense

Defense Lobby Payments Slow, but Efforts Don’t

Several major defense contractors reduced their lobbying expenditures in the first quarter of 2009, even as the companies are quietly trying to reverse President Barack Obama’s proposal to slash the budget for several high-profile military aircraft.

With the presidential helicopter, the C-17 military cargo plane and the F-22 Raptor all on the chopping block, defense contractors like AgustaWestland and Boeing are trying to persuade lawmakers to reinstate funding for their programs.

“We’re very proud of the helicopter,” said AgustaWestland’s Daniel Hill, referring to the VH-71A presidential aircraft. Funding for the helicopter was slashed in the president’s budget.

Hill added: “We’re going to cooperate with the Navy and with our prime contractor Lockheed Martin, but as long as people have questions on the Hill and want to speak to the company that makes the helicopter, we’re more than happy to help them out and give them factual information.”

While AgustaWestland doesn’t expect additional money to be put into the defense supplemental spending bill moving in both chambers this week, the company hopes that funding is included in the regular Defense appropriations bill.

AgustaWestland’s lobbyists are distributing a one-page memo with an “on-budget” option for replacing the presidential helicopter fleet.

“The overall program is over two-thirds complete and the first missionized aircraft will enter flight test in May 2009,” according to the memo.

The company spent $156,000 on lobbying during the first quarter of 2009, down nearly $10,000 from the same period in 2008. AgustaWestland has BKSH & Associates, Ervin Technical Associates and Beau Boulter on retainer.

The Obama administration has pressured House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense Chairman John Murtha (D-Pa.) and Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) not to add programs to the budget — and defense contractors are going to have a harder time getting lawmakers to reinstate programs, according to defense analyst Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute.

“A sea change is upon us in the way money is appropriated in terms of military programs,” Thompson said.

“In general it is going to be difficult for Democratic appropriators to disagree with a Democratic president on whether weapons should be added when the country is facing a huge budget deficit,” he added.

The Obama administration has also vowed that this will be the last wartime supplemental spending bill, and that future spending for conflicts abroad will go through the regular Defense appropriations bill. The supplementals have been magnets for additional defense spending in years past.

But despite facing program cuts, defense contractors have largely decreased their lobbying spending in 2009. Boeing, Northrop Grumman and EADS all cut their lobbying expenditures during the first quarter of this year compared to the same period in 2008.

Boeing dropped its spending on lobbying from $2.8 million during the first quarter of 2008 to $2.4 million so far this year. Northrop cut back from $3.3 million to $2.6 million, and EADS dropped from $850,000 to $520,000, according to Senate lobbying disclosure reports.

Lockheed Martin was the only defense contractor to significantly increase its spending. The defense contractor nearly doubled its spending, from $3.7 million during the first quarter of 2008 to $6.4 million so far this year, according to Senate lobbying disclosure reports.

“Our expenses went up in the first quarter of 2009 due in part to increased activity on programs such as the F-22 prior to the [president’s] defense budget recommendations made on April 6,” Jeff Adams, a Lockheed Martin spokesman, said in a statement to Roll Call.

Lockheed Martin saw some gains in the budget but is facing big cuts with the shutdown of the F-22 Raptor.

Despite publicly saying it isn’t fighting the decision to stop production of the F-22, Lockheed hasn’t completely stood down.

“It’s very much a soft sell,” one lobbyist who works for several defense contractors said of Lockheed’s efforts.

“That doesn’t mean they’ve given up,” added another defense industry lobbyist, who has run several campaigns in the past for defense contractors facing program cuts.

“It comes to the logical conclusion of leaving the program in the very good hands of F-22 champions on Capitol Hill,” he added.

Lawmakers, including House Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) and Reps. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii), have defended the program in the past.

Lockheed Martin has also redoubled its efforts on the F-35 joint strike fighter to ensure the program’s continued funding, according to defense lobbyists.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he wants to speed up testing of the planes and order around 500 F-35 planes over the next five years.

While Lockheed will be hit by the stoppage of the F-22, Boeing is facing some of the largest program cuts.

Gates wants to shut down production of the C-17 military cargo plane and cut missile- defense programs as well as Boeing’s Airborne Laser program. Boeing also makes the wings for the F-22.

It isn’t all bad news for Boeing.

Lawmakers have come to the defense of the Boeing F-18. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), who counts Boeing’s St. Louis-based division as one of the biggest companies in her state, has spoken out in support of the program.

It appears Congress will add funding for Boeing’s C-17 Globemasters in the defense supplemental bill. The House moved to add eight of the cargo planes to the budget.

The increase may not be enough, though, because decreasing the number of cargo planes will increase the cost per plane, according to industry analysts.

The Lexington Institute’s Thompson says the C-17 program has the greatest chance of seeing money restored, noting that Congress is accustomed to funding the program and that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has given it her stamp of approval.

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