Congress to Decide If C-17 Program Will Fly

Article excerpt

A CONGRESSIONAL PERENNIAL, the perils-of-Pauline saga of McDonnell Douglas Corp.'s C-17 cargo plane, comes to the House floor as early as this Tuesday for what proponents and critics alike are calling a decisive vote on the jumbo transport's future.

At stake is a program that has already cost about $17 billion, with 12 C-17s delivered to the Air Force out of a force initially projected at 120 planes. About 3,000 McDonnell Douglas employees in St. Louis County work on the C-17, plus 10,000 in southern California and about 700 in Georgia.

Cost overruns, technical problems and the end of the Cold War have made the C-17 an inviting target for congressional cost-cutters, who believe the Pentagon could meet foreseeable transport needs with the substitution of cheaper wide-bodied commercial jets or existing cargo planes.

In floor upcoming floor votes, the House will have up-or-down votes on three separate C-17 amendments: One that would kill the program outright, after completion of four more planes; one that would increase production in the next fiscal year to six planes, the number requested by President Bill Clinton; and one that would cut production to four per year.

"We need to make a decision on this program," said House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, D-Mo. "We need either to get on and build it," he said, "or we need to stop it - and, as with the super-collider, admit that we wasted a ton of money. . . ."

Gephardt backs the administration's plan for six planes next year. Going any lower, he believes, would make the cost per plane prohibitively expensive, and invite still more calls for cancellation.

Rep. Elizabeth Furse, D-Ore., favors cancellation. Her amendment would shut down the C-17 program after completing four more planes next year. …