Congress Wonders Why Some F-35s It Funded Haven’t Been Built

REUTERS/Tom Reynolds/Lockheed Martin Corp

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Lawmakers are concerned the Pentagon’s F-35 contracting office didn’t order several F-35 fighter jets even though Congress appropriated the money.

A defense appropriations report included as part of the 2017 funding bill sent Thursday to President Donald Trump mentions “there is concern that the number of F-35s enacted in annual Department of Defense Appropriations Acts are not being placed on contract by the JSF PEO in a timely manner.”

Specifically, four F-35s funded in the fiscal year 2015 defense appropriations bill and 13 F-35s in the 2016 bill were not ordered by the Pentagon in the corresponding contracts those years.

The report notes that the Pentagon buys F-35s through a contract strategy known as low-rate initial production, or LRIP, which requires purchasing fewer units at first while the manufacturer builds and tests processes.

Congress wants the DOD to be more transparent and communicative with lawmakers in the process. The current appropriations bill, which funds the Pentagon through Sept. 30, includes funding for 74 F-35 jets. The report asks the Pentagon to provide information within 45 days of the bill’s passage.

“Throughout the fiscal year 2017 budget review process, the Joint Strike Fighter Joint Program Office provided insufficient justification and incomplete information in an untimely manner,” the document states. “It is imperative that requested information is received promptly for proper congressional oversight of this major defense acquisition program.”

“They need to be transparent, don’t they?” Texas Republican Rep. Roger Williams, told McClatchy. “We need to have better communications, we need to demand that they watch expenses. This is taxpayer money they are spending. There should be no surprises in Congress based on what the Pentagon has done.”

A spokesman for the Joint Program Office, which manages F-35 procurement, said that the Pentagon will keep Congress informed in a timely manner and will change its practices to procure jets in the same year the funds have been appropriated.

“We have seen the Congressional language and have improved our business processes with industry so that going forward we will be able to award aircraft included in future Department of Defense Appropriations Acts on the respective production contract for that fiscal year,” the spokesman said. “We will continue to be open and transparent with the Congress and keep them informed of program actions in a timely manner.”

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated with comments from the Joint Program Office.

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