Thursday, April 9, 2009

Rep. Richardson pushes for C-17

CONGRESS: She wants military budget to include Boeing plane.
By John Canalis and Gene Maddaus, Staff Writers

Back in Washington, D.C., after a diplomatic trip to Cuba, U.S. Rep. Laura Richardson said Wednesday that she is fighting a Defense Department recommendation to end production of the Long Beach-built Boeing C-17 Globemaster.

The Long Beach Democrat, serving in the 37th District, had already met with Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who chairs the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, about restoring funding recommendations for the military cargo plane.

"Just because (Defense Secretary Robert) Gates or the president does not initially put C-17s in the budget does not mean additional C-17s will not be funded," Richardson said of Pentagon proposals. "We're often left fighting and building the case of why the C-17 needs to continue, and I will continue the same efforts."

Though Gates and the Pentagon make recommendations on the military budget, Congress controls the purse strings. The C-17 has many high-profile supporters, including U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who chairs the Intelligence Committee and sits on the powerful Appropriations Committee.

The Obama administration has sent conflicting messages in regard to the cargo plan.

Though Gates is part of the cabinet, and finds the C-17 program outdated for the type of sporadic warfare the nation is likely to encounter in the future, President Obama expressed support for the C-17 program earlier this year on his administration Web site: "We need greater investment in advanced technology, ranging from the revolutionary, like Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and electronic warfare capabilities, to essential systems like the C-17 cargo and KC-X air refueling aircraft, which provide the backbone of our ability to extend global power," he wrote.

Richardson noted that the cargo aircraft has non-military uses, such as domestic and international relief operations.

Ceasing production and then trying to restart it when the military needs more planes is viewed as a risky proposition. Boeing has said in past years that if the C-17 line is closed, it will be closed for good.

"Building those planes is not something you can stop and start," Richardson said. "It's a billion-dollar affair to turn on the switch and turn off the switch."

Boeing Co. spokesman Jerry Drelling said the company is committed to the program but did not have any updates on its status with lawmakers.

"We really appreciate her support," he said of Richardson. "She has been a longtime supporter of the C-17."

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, has also said he would go to bat for the C-17 in Washington. Rohrabacher's earmark requests for the 2010 federal budget include $4.2 billion for the C-17 program.

At stake are 5,000 jobs at the Long Beach Boeing plant and a network of 30,000 supplier jobs nationwide. An effort to extend the C-17 line, Boeing has been working to secure more international contracts. Some feared that the C-17 line would close this year, but the line will continue until at least August 2010, thanks to a $2.95 billion Air Force contract to build 15 more planes.

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