John Heaton (jheaton) wrote,
John Heaton
jheaton

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Names in the news

One of the survivors of the plane crash that killed Sen. Ted Stevens was Sean O'Keefe, the CEO of EADS North America and a former Administrator of NASA. I'm not sure I'd ever heard of him before yesterday, so it was an interesting coincidence when, later in the day, I picked up the book I'm currently reading, The Dream Machine: The Untold History of the Notorious V-22 Osprey by Richard Whittle, and soon ran across this passage:

The next morning, Schaefer was summoned to Cheney's office. Cheney was sitting at his desk as Schaefer entered. Sean O'Keefe, the top Pentagon budget official at the time, was also in the room.

Yes, it's the same Sean O'Keefe. Turns out he was a key player in then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney's years-long battle to eliminate the V-22 program; as the Pentagon's comptroller, O'Keefe was the guy who made sure the money appropriated for the development of the Osprey didn't get spent.

The section of the book that discusses Cheney's fight to kill the program is pretty interesting in light of his recent service as Vice President. Turns out that whole "ready and willing to break the law and ignore the Constitution in service of his agenda" thing isn't a trick he developed after he was elected VP. The Osprey program was very popular in Congress and was fully funded every year, but Cheney refused to use the money for the program, even after Congress included a provision in the appropriations bill requiring that money to be spent on the Osprey. It wasn't until the Appropriations Committee added an amendment to the next year's defense appropriation bill that would reduce funding for the comptroller's office 5% percent for every month the Department of Defense failed to implement the Osprey program, and the GAO ruled that the department had illegally impounded the money under the terms of the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974, that Cheney backed down.

I admit to having mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, Cheney was being a jackass, and in most instances it's probably good policy to do the opposite of whatever Cheney wants done. On the other hand, at the time I too was very much in favor of killing the program. I was working for Sen. Don Riegle of Michigan in 1992 when an Osprey prototype crashed into the Potomac River, killing all seven people on board. It didn't seem to me, a junior staffer working occasionally on military issues, that an aircraft that was wildly over-budget and behind schedule that had a proven inability to stay airborne was an program worth continuing. It generated a fair amount of mail on both sides of the issue, but I don't recall that Sen. Riegle ever took a position on it; the military wasn't one of his specialties, and he may also have been influenced by the fact that the Osprey's engines were made by a subsidiary of GM.

I guess they ultimately worked out the kinks, because there are 112 V-22s currently being used by the Marine Corps and the Air Force, and there are plans to buy 300-some more over the next several years. Still, it came at the cost of $27 billion (so far) and thirty lives, and I'm not entirely sure it was worth it. I've got another 150 pages to go in the book, so maybe I'll feel differently by the time I'm done.

Tags: current events, history, politics, reading: books
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