Army Purchases of $17,000 Pans Tied to Kentucky Lawmaker

Army Ambition
Illustration by Oscar Bolton Green

Representative Harold Rogers of Kentucky directed millions of dollars in business to Kentucky company Phoenix Products Co., one of his campaign contributors, for $17,000 leak-proof drip pans for U.S. Army helicopters when similar products can be bought for about $2,500, according to a competitor.

Robert Skillen, chief engineer at VX Aerospace Corp., a Leesburg, Virginia-based advanced composites manufacturing and design company, said an earmark Rogers added to a 2009 spending bill provided funding to buy the leak-proof pans for the Army from Phoenix Products in McKee, Kentucky. Skillen said his company sells drip pans for $2,471.

“You think Hal Rogers cares they spent five times more than they’re worth? He just wants campaign money,” Skillen, who is at the Morganton, North Carolina, manufacturing facility, said in an interview. “He just wants campaign money. It’s spending taxpayer money for personal profit.”

Phoenix Products was selected in a competitive bidding process, said Jennifer Hing, a spokeswoman for Rogers, a Republican who is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. The Army has continued to award the bid to Phoenix in the years since the 2009 earmark, she said.

“It’s important that Congress do what it can to provide our military with the best resources to ensure their safety and advance our missions abroad, while also saving taxpayer dollars wherever possible,” Rogers said in a statement to the New York Times, which first reported the story in today’s editions. “These dripping pans help accomplish both of these goals.”

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Phoenix Products didn’t return a phone message today left with a man who identified himself as a janitor at the company. U.S. Army spokesman James Hutton couldn’t provide an immediate comment.

The Army bought 374 drip pans from Phoenix at an average cost of $17,000, according to the article. In helicopters, a rotor runs to a shaft in the roof and the pans are underneath to contain fluid, much like a pan under a car engine, Skillen said.

The company’s owners are political contributors to Rogers, according to the Times story. Phoenix’s president, Thomas Wilson, and his wife Peggy, have given at least $600,000 since 2005 to a Washington lobbying firm and have been contributors to Rogers’ political committee, according to the Times.

‘Cronyism Network’

Phoenix hired a lobbying firm that gave money to Rogers, according to Melanie Sloan, executive director of the nonpartisan Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Skillen came to the group with his concerns and it began investigating, she said in an interview. The group filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the Army to learn more about the leak-proof pans and purchasing, she said.

“It’s a cronyism network,” said Sloan. “He wanted to give money to the company and he got campaign contributions. This is why America is frustrated with earmarks.”

The Army has been criticized before for overspending. Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. charged the Army $2,510.06 each for six helicopter parts it bought from the Defense Logistics Agency for $143.26 each, a mark-up of 1,652 percent according to a 2011 audit by the Defense Department’s inspector general.

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