Saturday, August 08, 2009
Remember back a few months ago when members of Congress were chastising the big 3 auto executives for arriving at the congressional hearings in private jets? Well it appears that they personally consider themselves above the common CEOs. They have recently approved nearly $200 million for the Air Force to buy three elite Gulfstream jets for ferrying top government officials and members of Congress.
The Air Force had asked for one Gulfstream 550 jet (price tag: about $65 million) as part of an ongoing upgrade of its passenger air service.
But the House Appropriations Committee, at its own initiative, added to the 2010 Defense appropriations bill another $132 million for two more airplanes and specified that they be assigned to the D.C.-area units that carry Members of Congress, military brass and top government officials.
The Gulfstream G550 is a luxury business jet, which the company advertises as featuring long-range flight capacity that “easily links Washington, D.C., with Dubai, London with Singapore and Tokyo with Paris.” The company’s promotional materials say, “The cabin aboard the G550 combines productivity with exceptional comfort. It features up to four distinct living areas, three temperature zones, a choice of 12 floor plan configurations with seating for up to 18 passengers.”
Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said if Congress wants to buy new jets for the comfort of top government officials, “I think that all needs to be justified on the merits. ... Certainly, lawmakers can fly — and many do fly — coach and business class.” While there may be reasons for flying on top-notch private jets, “it shouldn’t just be squeezed into the bill.”
Ellis said the airplanes are also part of a larger trend for the Appropriations Committee to simply decide that big-ticket items are program increases, not earmarks, so they require less public disclosure.
“The more that you push for transparency, the more of this stuff goes underneath the carpet,” Ellis said. While Congress has established new rules requiring greater transparency for earmarks, the Appropriations Committee is “the judge, jury and executioner over what is an earmark and what isn’t and how much information we get.”