In a news release arguing that Democratic U.S. Rep. James Langevin is wasting taxpayer money, his Republican challenger, Mark Zaccaria, cites the case of a "blatantly bogus project" involving a jet engine proposed for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
"While countless Rhode Islanders are struggling to put food on their tables and find employment, Representative Jim Langevin has voted for billions in wasteful spending. One particularly appalling boondoggle is $3 billion for a jet engine no one wants. Even Secretary of Defense [Robert] Gates and President Obama oppose this expenditure," Zaccaria said in the news release, which carried the headline "Zaccaria Criticizes Langevin on Billions in Pork-Barrel Spending."
The engine that Langevin voted for is called the F136. General Electric and Rolls-Royce want to jointly build it for the Pentagon's new multi-purpose jet fighter, which is still being flight-tested by Lockheed. The stealth aircraft is designed to be used by the Air Force, Navy and Marines because it can hover, land on aircraft carriers and take off from conventional airfields.
The problem is, the F-35 already has an engine, called the F135. It's manufactured by Pratt & Whitney, which assembles the engines in Middletown, Conn. Ten engines have already been produced.
General Electric and Rolls-Royce want the government to buy their engine -- which is still in the developmental stage -- as a backup. Gates, who has been trying to trim defense spending, has said the F136 is not necessary and a waste of money.
Supporters of the F136 argue that having a second manufacturer forces defense contractors to compete. In addition, Langevin "felt strongly that having 95 percent of our fleet rely on one engine was too costly and too risky," said the congressman's spokeswoman, Joy Fox, referring to Langevin's support for a second engine.
Zaccaria, a former military aviator, said it's ridiculous to have two different engines for the same jet fighter, with two different specifications, two sets of parts and two repair manuals.
We're not going to assess the wisdom of having an alternative manufacturer for the F-35's engine. That's too subjective.
We decided to focus instead on Zaccaria's assertion that Langevin voted to spend $3 billion for the engine when "no one" wants it.
The issue came to a key vote in the House in May as part of a $568-billion defense bill. It called for appropriating $485 million for the controversial engine to continue development. So Zaccaria's $3-billion figure is six times too high.
(The Pentagon has estimated it would cost $2.9 billion to finish developing the engine, a figure GE and Rolls-Royce dispute. The highest figure we could find regarding how much Congress has already earmarked for the program is $1.2 billion.)
Langevin, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, backed the F136 in the May vote, opposing an amendment that would have cut the engine from the defense bill.
But Langevin wasn't alone; 230 other congressmen joined him, including 116 Republicans and 114 Democrats.
One other point. Pork barrel spending, by definition, refers to projects designed to bring money or jobs into a politician's home turf. As far as we could tell, nothing about manufacturing the F136 engine would directly benefit Rhode Island, a point on which Zaccaria and Langevin agree.
We asked Zaccaria why he used that term. "This is pork barrel in that it has no real redeeming value to the budget of the United States of America," he said. "It's probably pork barrel for somebody."
It's true that many oppose the F136 engine, including Gates and President Obama. And it's true that Langevin voted to support it.
But Zaccaria went further, inflating the price tag associated with the vote and asserting that "no one" wants it, when a majority of House members were in favor of keeping it.
His statement is Barely True.
Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.