Case Overview, C-130 Procurement

This document provides background information and summarizes the debate over C-130 procurement. The links to the left will lead you to public documents that we have found.


          Following the end of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam, the Carter Administration modified national military strategy to incorporate what was known as the Total Force Policy. That policy integrated all active, reserve, and National Guard forces under the direction of the Department of Defense (DOD). Under the Total Force Policy, the three military components maintain their respective structural hierarchies and independence, but do so under the umbrella authority of DOD.

          The purpose of this policy was to centrally plan for, administer, and equip a military that could sustain several missions simultaneously around the globe. In terms of public administration, the sole budget request responsibility was granted to the secretary of Defense. Consequently, National Guard forces remain under the command of each state's governor and adjutant general in peacetime. However, funding for their equipment, personnel, and administration comes from Congress through DOD. This system was designed to guarantee that all military forces-including the Coast Guard, which is technically part of the Department of Transportation-would be ready to be summoned by the president to meet national security demands at any given time. Yet the National Guard forces and the Reserves do not directly receive funding as independent military services. Rather, they depend on the Department of Defense to do their bidding for them on Capitol Hill. According to an advocate who works on military equipment purchases, "The key point here is the Guard and Reserve forces do not have access to the Pentagon's budget and to the President's budget. It has traditionally been a hand-me-down type of thing." While these details may initially seem insignificant because, after all, the military is the military regardless of what function the component serves, this arrangement can have dramatic political consequences in Washington, especially when the armed services seek to procure new equipment.

          The consequences of the politics of procurement can be seen clearly in the case of Lockheed Martin's C-130 tactical airlift program. Since the Korean War, Lockheed Martin-one of a handful of American military production companies-has sold the C-130 to the U.S. Air Force, Air Force Reserves, Air National Guard, U.S. Coast Guard, and U.S. Marines Corps. The C-130 is the only mid-size, mid-range troop and materiel transport plane in the U.S. fleets. The aircraft can be recognized by its wide body, twin set of turbo-propeller engines on each wing, and rear door to load or drop personnel and cargo.

          After the introduction of the Total Force Policy, coupled with the post-Vietnam reduction in military spending, the U.S. Air Force relegated the C-130 to their unfunded priority list because the combined Active, Reserve, and National Guard inventories of the plane were sufficient. Unfunded priorities are those items in the president's annual budget request to Congress that are not specifically requested to be funded but are listed in the administration's order of preference to indicate future and less important programs. As a result, Lockheed Martin lost its most important customer-the U.S. government. A lobbyist familiar with Lockheed's reaction states succinctly, "If for whatever reason, you don't make that budget process and you're left out and you're stuck on what I call the second team-what they call the unfunded priority list, in other words things that they want but can't afford-you have to develop other means. You have to create the desire, the want, the need through other channels." To overcome this problem and to maintain the C-130 production line, Lockheed developed a lobbying strategy to convince Congress to use its power of the purse to insert funding for the C-130 in the annual budget. In Capitol Hill budgetary parlance, this practice has come to be known as a "congressional add-on," because Congress-presumably on its own initiative-adds specific items to the administration's budget that the administration has otherwise indicated that it was not interested in.

          Since 1978, Lockheed has successfully managed to sell hundreds of C-130s to DOD, despite the fact that DOD until recently had not even asked for them. Both supporters and critics alike attribute Lockheed Martin's lobbying and marketing success to the company's strategically planned appeals to senators' and representatives' local constituency interests. First, Lockheed lobbied members of Congress who represent states and districts with C-130 production facilities or parts manufacturers. The most prominent group in this category has been the entire Georgia state delegation because the plane is assembled in Marietta, Georgia. Second, Lockheed increases congressional demand for new planes by identifying aging C-130 units in National Guard and Reserve units throughout the country. National Guard and Reserve units are ideal because, again, their inventories often consist of whatever the active-duty forces send their way and because the officers and enlisted men typically are part-time and reside in the states and congressional districts that the air station calls home. So Lockheed identifies and lobbies those members of Congress who represent the districts and states in which the bases are located. Generally, these planes are ripe for replacement because they have been in operation since the Korean and Vietnam Wars, making parts and maintenance very expensive. Lockheed then prioritizes these prospective C-130 replacements according to need and political opportunities to increase support in Congress. Not all members' C-130 needs can be satisfied in any one fiscal year, however. Lockheed strategically lines up potential senators and representatives to support current add-ons designated for other states and districts by committing to lobby for their own add-ons in the future. As one congressional aide put it, Lockheed has become adept at managing support for the tactical airlifter with "C-130 math" to make sure that, during any given fiscal year, a substantial and often influential cadre of members supports the C-130 add-on. By following this strategy from year to year, Lockheed has been able to turn what was to be the C-130's doom in the 1970s into a regularly funded military spending program, all without a single request having been sent by the administration to Congress.

          The C-130 procurement program has hardly gone unnoticed by fiscally conservative members of Congress, good government groups, and investigative reporters. Opponents of pork barrel politics often cite the C-130 as a prime example of corruption. These critics highlight the fact that Congress funds the program without the Air Force's request or consent. Criticism of the C-130 program hit its peak during the 1990s because two ardent supporters from Georgia-Democrat Senator Sam Nunn and Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich-held posts in Congress with a good deal of influence over the budget process. Leading the charge in the 1990s against the C-130 was presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). McCain has been so outspoken against the aircraft procurement program that he went so far as to complain about the pork project in a 1999 presidential stump speech in Macon, Georgia, home of hundreds of Lockheed Martin employees. The most notable interest group that opposes the C-130 program is Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), publisher of the annual Pig Book that highlights members' pet federal projects and distributive programs. In a damning 1998 Washington Post article, journalist Walter Pincus wrote, "For the twenty-second year in a row, Congress is making the Air Force buy more C-130 military transport aircraft than it wants, changing Pentagon spending priorities and causing early retirement of previously purchased C-130s." Thus, opposition stems from the idea that Congress is buying planes that are not necessary for it to accomplish its national security goals.

          Recently, however, complaints about the C-130 program have waned because the Air Force has come full circle and now publicly supports procuring the tactical airlifter. A congressional staffer who plays a central role in the annual fight to buy new planes states, "We went through a period where the Air Force complained that we put them in the budget, then we went through a period where they didn't fight us, and now they're working with us." In 1999, the Air Force commissioned a study to review their C-130 inventories and identify planes that most needed replacement. The report identified roughly 160 airplanes that would need to be replaced and outlined a "road map"; that prioritized which planes should be replaced according to national security needs. In 2001, the fiscal year 2002 Air Force budget proposal requested two new C-130s and added an asterisk to the C-130 line on their unfunded priority list to indicate that they planned to request more in the future.



          The lead proponents of the program are Lockheed Martin and the subcontractors that manufacture various parts of the C-130. Additionally, Lockheed works closely with the National Guard Association (NGA) and the Reserve Officers Association (ROA), which represent guardsmen and reserves throughout the United States. On Capitol Hill, major proponents include Rep. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee who has many Lockheed employees in his district, and Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R-AR), co-chair of the bipartisan Senate C-130 Modernization Caucus. Members of the Senate and House Armed Services and Appropriations Committees, which annually authorize and fund DOD programs, are also key players. In addition, members of Congress who represent states and districts with an Air Force Base identified in the "road map" of candidates for new C-130s actively pursue funding. In recent years members from Western states, led by Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), chairman of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, have sought C-130 funding for the Coast Guard to aid in fighting forest fires. Finally, Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), a former Marine whose district represents the Marine Corps Base at Parris Island, leads an informal group of members affectionately known by colleagues as the "Marine Corps mafia" in supporting C-130 procurement. Within the administration, Lockheed keeps in close contact with legislative liaison officers in the Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, as well as with those in the National Guard Bureau, the office that links DOD to the National Guard forces in the fifty states.

          Opponents of the annual C-130 add-ons can be classified into two groups. First and most notably are members of Congress and interest groups that bring attention to wasteful government spending. Chief among these critics are Sen. John McCain and the CAGW. Second, Lockheed Martin's competitors include proponents of all other military programs that annually vie for a slice of the Pentagon's procurement pie. Ironically, these participants not only include corporate competitors such as Boeing and Raytheon, but also Lockheed Martin itself. The Air Force's number one procurement priority is Lockheed's new F-22 fighter, which is the primary reason the C-130 remains for the most part on the unfunded priority list.




          Generally, proponents of the C-130 make their case by arguing that there is a national security need for the airplane in both the short and the long run. In the immediate sense, Lockheed and supporters point out that many of the planes in the fleet were built in the 1950s and still fly with the technology of that time. One C-130 advocate pointed that, "These airplanes are...older than the pilots that are flying them. Their grandfathers were flying those airplanes...Do you want to send your son into combat in something your granddaddy was flying?" Thus, DOD needs new planes to meet the demands of its self-prescribed National Military Strategy even though its budget requests have historically excluded them. Additionally, to further support the national security argument, Lockheed demonstrates that the cost of repairing and maintaining many of these planes is actually more expensive than purchasing an updated C-130J "Hercules" model because the technology on board is obsolete. For instance, some planes are still equipped with radios that transmit signals with vacuum tubes that are no longer produced. In the long run, Lockheed argues that C-130 production must be maintained for national security reasons. Lockheed and others convinced the Air Force that it would be forced to shut down the C-130 production line in the absence of a long-term plan to buy more in the future because support was crumbling in the wake of tightening budget constraints during the Clinton presidency. If C-130s were to be discontinued, then DOD would lose a national asset because the production line is its only source of mid-size, mid-range airlifters. Therefore, the Air Force conduct an inventory study and produced its C-130 "road map" to justify its recent shift in policy towards turning C-130 procurement into a more routine and reliable annual budget request.

          When targeting specific members of Congress, Lockheed backs up its national security argument with claims of job preservation and "BRAC-proofing." First, Lockheed strategically targets members in eleven states dispersed throughout the country who represent workers that make parts for and assemble the airplane. As long as the Air Force buys the plane, these high-paying manufacturing jobs will be secure. Second, Lockheed seeks out support from members who have bases in their districts and states that are potentially on the forthcoming Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission's "chopping block." Many members of the armed services policy community expect Congress to initiate another BRAC Commission in the next few years to close inefficient and unnecessary military instillations. Among BRAC Commissions' criteria for determining the national security fitness of a base is the state of its technology. Because members of Congress see military bases as important sources of jobs and other economic benefits for their communities, Lockheed convinces them that advocating new C-130s for their bases is one way to prevent closure. Reelection-minded members can then claim credit for acquiring the planes, keeping the base open, and saving hundreds of jobs.


          Senator McCain and cohorts have simply argued that buying new C-130s is wasteful and irresponsible. McCain has repeatedly taken the floor of the Senate to denounce the congressional add-on as "the poster-child of pork" and that "we have C-130 for every schoolyard in the United States." With each new C-130J model costing taxpayers at least $40 million, the total cost of the program in more than twenty-three years is well into the billions. Thus, the cost of the C-130 program makes most other pork barrel programs-which are mostly one-time, local projects-pale in comparison.



          Because DOD is both reauthorized and funded by Congress on an annual basis, the battle over acquiring new C-130s takes place mostly in the four relevant committees: House and Senate Armed Services and House and Senate Appropriations. In addition, the Secretary-level Pentagon offices that prepare the budget to be sent to Congress have increasingly become an important site to pitch for new planes.


Lobbying Activities and Tactics

          Lockheed Martin's success in selling C-130s to the government over the past two decades is not by coincidence. While most military procurement contract campaigns differ from traditional single-issue advocacy efforts, Washington insiders familiar with the C-130 credit Lockheed's sophisticated and unique lobbying process as the key. Immediately following passage of one fiscal year's defense authorization and appropriations bills, Lockheed focuses on important outside-the-Beltway actors. The company begins to generate grassroots support among Reservists and Guardsmen in the two or three states that have been designated to receive new planes. As a lobbyist for the company puts it, "Those people-those Guardsmen [and Reservists]-in their cities and states are reasonably political people. First of all they are older-this is part-time for most of them-they have civilian jobs in the community. They're dentists, doctors, lawyers, any walk of life you can think of. They know their politicians." Simultaneously, they coordinate with their parts vendors to contact appropriate members of Congress from their region. Next, they directly lobby the National Guard Adjutants General, who work for their Governors and who may or may not care about the airplane, to convince them that they need to modernize a specific C-130 unit in their respective Air National Guard forces. The goal is to persuade skeptical lawmakers that the plane is needed to preserve the base and related jobs and to give friendly members of Congress the political cover they need to make a case in Washington.

          As this leg of the lobbying campaign is set in motion, Lockheed coordinates with the program's supporters on the Hill and across the river at the Pentagon. Lockheed continuously communicates with other participants from the early stages of the budget process through its completion during the inside-the-Beltway segment of their lobbying struggle. Congressional champions Representatives Chambliss, Lewis, and Jones and Senator Hutchinson, as well as other members of the C-130 Modernization Caucus, are encouraged to write letters to the Secretaries of Defense and the Air Force to formally ask that the planes be included in the President's budget. After the President submits his budget, these members work behind the scenes in their committees to include the identified C-130s in the Defense Authorization and Defense Appropriations chairman's mark, or the initial versions of the bills. Lockheed then directly guides members with bases or manufacturers to write committee chairmen to request that the planes be added. Lockheed also works with the Pentagon as progress is made in the committees to make sure senior officers are prepared to "stay on message" during legislative hearings and informal visits to members offices. These activities are somewhat routine for military procurement issues, though. The key feature of Lockheed's strategy is their vigilance in keeping all proponents, especially those members identified as having an imminent C-130 need in forthcoming fiscal years, on the same page. To this end, Lockheed and members with parts manufacturing interests work in tandem to make sure that any members with bases remain disciplined in supporting the current fiscal year requests. Otherwise, the supportive coalition of senators and representatives lined up to receive planes will fall apart. With long- and short-term goals being dependent upon each other and proponents' ability to be faithful to future commitments, the enduring success of the C-130 procurement program is hardly surprising.