One of Washington's most forceful critics of government waste is being accused of, well, waste.
Former Congressman and experimental presidential candidate Bob Barr (I-Georgia) is out with a new column on Tuesday making the case that a new ad campaign being launched by the non-profit Citizens Against Government Waste is a frivolous (if not boneheaded) use of the group's time and cash. At issue is congressional funding for a second jet engine for a hotly-contested stealth fighter plane. As Barr writes:
"For an organization whose official statement of accomplishments as a non-profit is to "educate the public about waste and inefficiency in the government," Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) is spending a lot of money fighting against the Congress funding a competing engine design for a major Defense Department program. In fact, CAGW is engaged in about as high-profile and expensive an ad campaign to kill a second jet engine for the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) stealth fighter plane, as any defense spending battle in recent years."
"During a recent visit to Washington, DC, I saw firsthand the results of this expensive ad campaign. The Washington Metro subway system is festooned with anti-second-engine posters; and there are the billboards. None of this comes cheap, including for a non-profit whose entire "program services" budget in 2007 (the most recent year for which IRS Form 990s are available for CAGW) was just over $3.0 million."
Barr goes on to make the point that CAGW's stance is not only wasteful it might be bad policy. "[T]he benefits of a competing engine for this multi-role, multi-national fighter were recognized as early as 1997, when DOD requested money to begin a "competitive engine program" for the fighter," he writes. "The two engines would be "interchangeable."
But Barr also hints at the possibility of serious conflicts of interests, wondering, without placing a call to ask, whether CAGW is being funded by Pratt and Whitney, a leading manufacturer of aircraft engines who would stand to be hurt by additional engine competition.
A spokesman for CAGW did not immediately return a request for comment. But rare is the day that the watchdog of waste is accused of budgetary malfeasance.
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