Friday, July 18, 2008

PIMP MY RIDE -- AIR FORCE EDITION


Project on Government Oversight The Air Force brass is pushing lush travel accommodations for themselves while troops put up with mangled seats on cargo aircraft, POGO and the Washington Post revealed. A cache of internal Air Force documents and emails show that Air Force generals frivolously blew hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars because they didn't like the color of seat belts, carpet, leather and wood used in work and living space units being developed for use on cargo planes.

The two little-known programs are called the Senior Leader In-transit Conference Capsule and the Senior Leader In-transit Pallet. Earlier, SLICC was called Senior Leader In-transit Comfort Capsules, with the "Comfort" being dropped in favor of "Conference" at one point in late 2006. SLICCs are two connected chambers with first class amenities on a pallet that can be loaded onto a C-17, KC-10, C-130 and KC-X aircraft. These SLICCs are modeled on two existing “Steel Eagles” which are currently used for the most senior Pentagon officials (and are replacing the previous two “Silver Bullets” which are customized Airstream trailers). Each SLIP is made up of four leather business class chairs with tables that fit on a pallet that can be loaded on a cargo plane.

The program began under General Duncan McNabb's tenure as commander of Air Mobility Command, a part of the Air Force that is responsible for air transport. General McNabb originally sought ten SLICCs and was involved in choosing the original color and material choices for the SLICC and SLIP leather, wood and carpet, which General Robert H. McMahon later changed at the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Disgust towards the generals' requests grew inside the Air Force, leading the acquisition effort to be moved when one part of Air Mobility Command refused to make some of the costly changes.

"In Mar 07, Gen McMahon requested A4 [Air Mobility Command’s Logistics Directorate] take over the acquisition effort when he could not get support from A5 [AMC’s Plans and Programs Directorate] for updates and cooperation on making the equipment ‘world class’ which was one of his goals,” according to an Air Force email.

In one email it states, “Gen McMahon’s concern is so significant that we need assurance by the end of the week from [Air Force Research Laboratory] that the SLICC will be ‘world class’ inside. While we know the requirements document says ‘business class’, we all know there are levels of that.”

The “world class” emphasis entailed the costly aesthetic redesign of the interior of an already existing system known as Steel Eagle. After the first SLIP was procured, General McMahon expressed dissatisfaction with the color of the seat leather and type of wood used. He directed that the leather be reupholstered from brown to Air Force blue leather and to replace the wood originally used to cherry.

The cost alone to reupholster the seats on the first SLIP is about $21,000 - one estimate of the total cost of wood and leather changes to all the first four SLIPs (16 chairs total) was about $113,000. The cost was so appalling to General Kenneth Merchant that he wrote, “How’d we get to $113K for 4 pallets? Pls tell me this is for all 4 pallets. . . I could carpet and upholster a couple of houses for $113K. . . ”

As of March this year, the total cost increase for retrofit and further customization -which goes beyond wood and leather - for the SLIPs, directed by Air Mobility Command headquarters, is $493,000.

Knowledge of the acquisition went even above General McNabb -- then-Chief of Staff T. Michael "Buzz" Moseley was briefed on the SLICC program. And as an email states, "the expectation was high" for the program. Moseley was canned by Defense Secretary Robert Gates about a month ago.

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