• Connecticut senator wins repeal of provision on overcharging
  • Air Force this year waived C-17 engine maintenance requirement

A Connecticut senator got colleagues to repeal a requirement intended to ensure that a contractor in his state didn’t overcharge the Air Force for maintaining engines on transport planes.

Democrat Richard Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, successfully sought language in the fiscal 2016 defense authorization measure reversing the requirement enacted in last year’s version of the legislation. The new bill, S. 1356, awaits President Barack Obama’s signature.

Under the provision the senator opposed, the Air Force could have been barred from awarding the next billion-dollar contract to the Pratt & Whitney engine unit of United Technologies Corp. for maintenance work on the engines it builds for C-17 transports until the Defense Department’s top weapons buyer certified that the company provided enough documentation to determine the service was “paying a fair and reasonable price.” The contractor is based in Hartford, Connecticut.

At stake is as much as $3.7 billion in engine work through 2021, according to the Pentagon’s inspector general. The watchdog office found in a December 2014 audit that the Air Force was “at high risk of paying too much” for the engine work. It subpoenaed Pratt & Whitney records in October 2014 after the company repeatedly refused to provide documents. It’s continuing to review an initial $1.5 billion, three-year contract covering 2012 to 2014, based on documents turned over so far.

‘Deeply Disappointing’

Mandy Smithberger, a director for the Washington-based watchdog group Project on Government Oversight, said in an e-mail that “it’s deeply disappointing that Congress has removed this modicum of accountability” while creating “future risks that the government won’t get a good deal.”

The senator asked for repeal of the Pratt & Whitney provision in May after the Air Force told him it had exercised a waiver letting it move forward on contracts on national-security grounds, according to a statement from his office.

Blumenthal “thought the provision should be repealed rather than modified, given the Air Force’s action,” according to the statement.

Blumenthal is running for re-election in 2016. United Technologies’ political action committee gave $5,000 to his “Nutmeg” leadership PAC in June and two $2,500 contributions in February and September for his primary campaign, according to Federal Election Commission records.

The Air Force waived the certification requirement “as allowed by law, in order to expedite resumption of engine support services,” Major Rob Leese, a spokesman for the service, said in an e-mail. Leese said the Air Force is satisfied Pratt has provided enough documentation to ensure a fair price.

Commercial Work

The inspector general is seeking to compare the cost of maintenance work on the C-17’s F117-PW-100 engine with Pratt & Whitney’s services on its comparable PW2000 engine for commercial customers.

“Pratt & Whitney has not yet produced all documents needed to fully assess whether the Air Force is acquiring the F117 engine sustainment services at a fair and reasonable price,” Bridget Serchak, spokeswoman for the inspector general, said in an e-mail.

Pratt spokesman Matthew Bates said in an e-mail that “it was appropriate for Congress to strike that language from” the defense bill, given the Air Force’s view that Pratt provided the necessary documentation.

The company is working “at great expense in time and resources” with the inspector general trying to “understand and clarify” the “unique and unprecedented requests” in its subpoena, he said.

The Air Force’s waiver allowed two contracts awarded to Pratt & Whitney through Boeing Co., the prime contractor on the C-17, in August and September. They are valued at about $1.1 billion for work through 2017 depending on the number of engines maintained, according to company data.

Each of the four engines on a C-17, which can carry a 160,000-pound payload or 102 passengers, is rated to produce 40,440 pounds of thrust.

Blumenthal said in a statement that he’ll continue oversight of “performance-based logistics” contracts such as the Pratt & Whitney maintenance work to “reduce operating costs and increase” C-17 usage rates.

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