Soldiers Die While a Congressman Battles the Pentagon

06/29/2011 12:43 pm ET | Updated Aug 24, 2011

Representative Bill Young (R-FL) has blocked the Department of Defense's request to add MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) to its light tactical vehicle fleet since before March of this year. Young demanded that the Army spend money on trying to improve Humvees, vehicles that no longer meet the Army's needs. Quoting InsideDefense, the "Humvees are built by AM General from South Bend, IN. The company is a subsidiary of the privately held holding company, MacAndrews & Forbes, which was the third-largest contributor to Young's most recent re-election campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics."

Defense News reports that, according to Pentagon Controller Robert Hale, "The current Humvee cannot withstand the blast from Improvised Explosive Devices [IEDs]..." IEDs have killed hundreds of American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan because, among other reasons, Humvees do not protect them. In March, Defense Secretary Gates, again quoting InsideDefense, "chided" Congressman Young, saying to him

Mr. Chairman, our troops need this force protection equipment and they need it now... Every day that goes by is one more day they will do without. Every day that goes by without this [new] equipment, the lives of our troops are at greater risk... We should not put American lives at risk to protect specific programs or contractors.

Now, almost four months later, the DOD is offering a compromise proposal. It will "shift $182 million to improve the survivability of its light tactical vehicle fleet [Humvees]", according to Defense News. The money will enable the previous contractors to test various improvements including "'blast venting, increased use of blast absorbing materials' and improved fire suppression." In the old Humvees, our soldiers were burning up. If the improvement works, that won't happen anymore. "Other improvements include an electronically controlled engine that promises reduced sustainment costs [that means fewer repairs] and improve the suspension so the vehicle can carry greater weight and support enhanced crew protection and improved fire suspension." According to Defense News, "The goal is to give the Humvee the protection of a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle at a significantly lower weight."
Also, according to Defense News, if the vehicle passes its test, the $182 million will "upgrade an estimated 1200 of the Army's 154,000 Humvees [plus another $68 million to build a chimney in the Humvees, for a total cost of $250 million]", the upgrade will cost more than $200,000 each." And they should be ready for battle, just about the time President Obama pulls the troops out of Afghanistan. In the meantime, dozens of more men and women will die in the unimproved Humvees.

How did this all come about? At the end of 2009, the DOD wanted to halt production of Humvees, and transfer the money to buying other vehicles. It requested Congressional approval of spending the $863,000 previously appropriated to buying Humvees on buying other MRAPs. When the GOP took control of Congress in 2010, and Congressman Young became Chairman of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, he refused to go along, but finally, after Secretary Gates' chiding, "agreed to allow the Pentagon to use the bulk of the funding originally provided to buy new Humvees with the condition that $250 million, more than a quarter of the available resources, be spent on to improve the Humvee fleet", according to InsideDefense. This week, the DOD gave up the battle, and agreed to give $250 million to Young's campaign contributors.

What did our troops get out it? Well, they got about two thirds of the new equipment they needed, and that surely saved some lives. What did Congressman Young get out of it? $250 million for his third largest campaign contributor. Of course, if the $250 million had been given to Congressman Young personally, it would have been a bribe. But if some part of it comes back to him from AM General in the form of a campaign contribution in 2012, it's all perfectly legal.