Watchdogs Want Earmarks Rescinded
Two watchdog groups critical of earmarks are calling on the Appropriations committees to suspend taxpayer-funded projects to a pair of defense contractors reportedly under federal investigation.
But the chairmen and ranking members of the spending committees in both chambers have so far declined to respond to the letter, sent Wednesday by the National Legal and Policy Center and Taxpayers for Common Sense.
The groups want appropriators to strip at least $59 million in projects for ProLogic Inc. and BAE Systems from defense spending bills currently in conference negotiations.
They pointed to a Tuesday story in The Wall Street Journal that reported ProLogic is under investigation for possibly diverting public funds for its own commercial software development, and to a Saturday report in the Lexington (Ky.) Herald- Leader outlining a Justice Department probe of possible corruption in the British-based BAE’s Saudi Arabian deals.
ProLogic declined to comment for this story and a BAE spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment.
“The earmarks for ProLogic and BAE are particularly troubling both because of the pending federal investigations, and because the companies both stand to benefit from tens of millions of dollars in earmarks that the Pentagon did not request,” the groups wrote in their letter. “Public confidence in Congress continues to wane, and wasteful spending and corruption continue to be primary causes of public concern. Suspending these earmarks in the conference process would be an important step in restoring public faith in Congress.”
Since the Senate has not matched the transparency standards adopted by the House this year, the groups were able to identify only three BAE projects in the Senate bill.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) claimed credit for the projects in a press release. “Sen. McConnell’s support for these projects is part of a multi-year effort that began 10 years before BAE even purchased the Kentucky-based facility, which was formerly owned by United Defense and is located in the Technology Park of Greater Louisville,” said McConnell’s communications director, Don Stewart, in an e-mail. “We know of no linkage between this meritorious Kentucky facility, its hundreds of employees, the valuable protection their efforts provide to our armed forces and an investigation into the parent company’s British transactions with Saudi Arabia.”
In the House, the groups found six earmarks worth $13 million for ProLogic, and seven totaling $21 million for BAE.
Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) sponsored a project for each — $3 million to ProLogic for “Range Tactical Data Link & Relay Capability” and $2 million to BAE for a “Pierside Wireless Connection” — according to a Taxpayers for Common Sense analysis of House documents. The BAE earmark was co-sponsored by Florida Republican Reps. Gus Bilirakis and Ander Crenshaw.
Kingston spokeswoman Krista Cole indicated he is open to calling for the suspension of the projects. “We are very concerned about this and would like to get more information, but we would consider it,” she said.
Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), who earmarked $2 million to BAE for “FPS-16 Radar Mobilization Upgrade,” had a different reaction. “This is an investigation that is ongoing and I think caution needs to be the key word, because nobody has been found guilty or charged with anything,” Miller said.
Dave Helfert, spokesman for Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii), echoed that sentiment. Abercrombie sponsored $3 million for BAE to develop “Marine Mammal Awareness, Alert and Response Systems” — technology Helfert said would help Navy sonar avoid interfering with migrating whales. Of the company, he said, “They are being investigated, which means just that — they’re being investigated. If they’re found guilty of some illegal action, we’ll have to take another look at it.”
In the meantime, he said, BAE has a “superb” track record in the Aloha State and their pending project is “important and fairly urgent, because this is something that needs to be resolved.”
ProLogic, a West Virginia-based company whose D.C. lobbyist is The PMA Group, received $11 million of its total in the House bill from Democratic Reps. Jim Moran (Va.), John Murtha (Pa.) and Peter Visclosky (Ind.), all top recipients of PMA political contributions.
ProLogic is headquartered in the district of Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), an appropriator under federal investigation for his earmarks. But it has also set up operations in Murtha’s district and in Visclosky’s hometown, in a technology center that hosts four other PMA clients.
The Journal report found that ProLogic’s CEO owns some of the facilities that the company rents, at a rate higher than market value, a fact the watchdog groups said “adds to the concerns of waste, fraud and abuse in its federal contracts.”
Correction: Nov. 1, 2007
The article incorrectly stated the amount of money taxpayer groups want appropriators to strip from the Defense bills. The correct amount is $59 million.