Printer Friendly

The Chesapeake Bay goose hunt, the beautiful secretary, and other ways the defense lobby got the B-1.

The Chesapeake Bay Goose Hunt, the Beautiful Secretary, and Other Ways the Defense Lobby Got the B- 1 by Nick Kotz

After a 30-year struggle that overcame the opposition of several presidents, the Air Force finally getting a new strategic bomber. In April, Rockwell International well deliver the last of 100 B- 1 bombers to the Air Force.

The $28 billion project has been fraught with controversy throughout its long history. The Air Force has touted the sophisticated bomber, designed to fly at near supersonic speed at treetop level and penetrate deep into Soviet territory, as an essential part of the U.S. strategic nuclear deterrent. But critics have long contended that other weapons -- such as planes firing long-range cruise missiles -- make the B- 1 unnecessary. Furthermore, technological flows in B-1 have cast doubts on the plane's ability to perform its mission.

The history of this costly and perhaps unneeded weapon illustrates the political, military, and economic forces that extend throughout our system of national defense. Too often, military decisions are based not on objective considerations of our national security needs but for reasons -- contracts for campaign contributions, jobs for constiuents, or the parochial self-interest of one of the competing armed services.

The $28 billion spent on the B- 1 and billions more spent earlier on research and development provided contracts to 5,200 companies in 48 states. As congressional skepticism toward the B- 1 grew in the mid-1970s, the military and defense contractors grew expert at promoting the project on economic terms, froming a secret lobbying coalition run from the Pentagon.

While Congress debated the 1975 defense budget, a tight-knit group of Air Force officers and Rockwell International officials secretly plotted the battle tactics of defense politics. Working together from a Pentagon headquarters, they coordinated a sophisticated lobbying campaign designed to win continued approval of the B- 1 bomber from an increasingly reluctant Congress. The meticulous, secretive -- and ethically dubious -- campaign became a model for future defense lobbying efforts to secure support for the C-5B transport plane and the MX missile.

In the trade, they called it "who's on who". It was a kind of matchmaking, pairing each member of Congress with the individual or groups most likely to persuade that legislator to vote for continued funding of the bomber. The contact might be made by the chief Rockwell lobbyist in Washington, Ralph, J. (Doc) Watson, by an Air Force officer such as Colonel Grant Miller, who worked full-time on the B-1's safe passage through Congress, by the president of the United Automobile Workers -- or even by the president of the United States.

Conversations at the Pentagon meetings followed a predictable pattern:

"Who's on Baker?" Miller would ask. Howard Baker, a Republican senator from Tennessee, though not yet his party's Senate leader, needed lobbying.

"Kelley's got Baker," Watson would reply. Jack Kelly, a retired Air Force colonel, was the Washington lobbyist for Avco Corporation, which had a subcontract potentially worth $1 billion to build the B- 1's wings at its Nashville plant. Avco officials were lobbying the entire Tennessee congressional delegation, whose members understood the importance the B- 1 held for their state's economy.

A 150-member Pentagon staff answered queries for members of Congress, kept a file on their voting records and statements, supplied them with transportation for "official trips," kept them informed of projects in their districts -- and of course worked assiduously to gain their votes for Air Force programs.

As lobbying assignments were made at the Pentagon meetings, the participants made careful notations on tally sheets spread out on the conference table. These scorecards also showed how each of 100 senators and 435 representatives has voted on the B-1 in the past and how he or she was expected to vote in 1975. Special attention was focused on "swing votes" -- uncommitted members whose votes might be swayed by the right argument on person. The "who's on who" assignments were recorded in code, lest the tally sheets fall into unfriendly hands. What emerged from the strategy meetings was an intricate -- and highly questionable -- lobbying network.

Sharing the wealth

Lobbying coalitions have long been an integral part of the Washington political system. What was unusual about the B-1 strategy meetings at the Pentagon was not only their sophistication but the participants themselves. Military officers are forbidden by law from lobbying Congress, not to mention doing so in coordination with the defense industry.

The Air Force worked with the defense contractors with cavalier disregard for Title 18 of the U.S. Code, the statue that specifically prohibits officials of the executive branch from lobbying the Congress. Title 18 is often ignored by members of the executibe branch, which is worrisome in itself. But when

military officers ignore it, the offense is compounded; the military is supposed to obey civilian authority and stay out of politics.

The Air Force-Rockwell coalition developed into a formal apparatus in direct reaction -- and direction proportion -- to the growing congressional threat during the early 1970s. On August 3, 1973, the Senate Armed Service Committee cut $100 million from the B-1 funds requested by the Air Force expressly to indicate "the committee's dissatisfaction and serious concern regarding the management of this program."

The Air Force and industry regarded the congressional slap as the worst kind of "micromanagement." Without warning, a multibillion-dollar weapon program could be thrown off track by politics changed in the annual congressional authorization and appropriation process.

Congressional opposition grew more vocal and better organized in 1974. In the Senate, George McGovern won 31 votes for an amendment that would have cut the B-1's development appropriation by 50 percent. A House amendment to kill the plane outright, though, was defeated 309 to 94. Although those were wide margins of defeat for the opponents, the Air Force-Rockwell coalition perceived them as ominous challenges to the Safe establishment that had conducted defense business in Congress up until then.

After the Vietnam war and the disgrace of Watergate, Congress more strongly asserted its will on defense issues against the presidency and the Pentagon. Antiwar sentiment and antimilitary bias swelled into powerful currents in the country during the middle 1970s.

Institional change also had overtaken some old congressional procedures. Powerful, autocratic committee chairmen (mostly southern conservatives who had been generous to the military) could no longer automotically impose their will on a military contract. Reformers in the Democratic party had punctured the seniority system and managed to oust several committee chairmen, including Democratic Rep. F. Edward Hebert, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

These reforms made it harder for the defense industry to gain approval for its programs. Once the power of committee chairmen was curbed, defense contractors and military services needed the support of many more members of Congress. As power in Congress fragmented, many members scrambled to get a share of defense contracts and bases for their constituents, just as they had traditionally sought dams and highways. The national interest was served no better in this made scramble for military assets than it has been when one autocrat called the shots.

Rockwell executives foresaw this decentralization of congressional power back in the 1960s. They realized that broad congressional support would be needed to sustain huge defense programs. Buildings a broad base of support entailed spreading the subcontracts around the country to make sure that enough constituences had a direct stake in a given weapons system. By the 1960s, Rockwell had established a division for advanced systems planning. This division tried to predict economic, political, and social trends in order to judge if various defense projects were viable. Deciding now and where to subcontract the work was a politically crucial part of planning a vast project like the B-1.

Both Rockwell and the Air Force sought to broaden B-1 support through subcontracts. For example, Rockwell contracted with the LTV Corporation of Fort Worth to build parts of the fuselage, even though they could easily have been made in Rockwell's own factories. A hefty subcontract would sway the large Texas congressional delegation, whose members included John Tower, an influential Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee and then Democratic House Majority Leader Jim Wright of Fort Worth.

The Air Force itself chose Seattle's Boeing Company to develop the hi-tech electronic systems that guide the plane and its weapons. Boeing had lost the prime B-1 contract to Rockwell, and the Air Force wanted to mollify the two influential senators from Washington state -- also knows as "the senators from Boeing": Henry "Scoop" Jackson, a power of the Armed Service Committee, and Warren Magnuson, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

By the time initial subcontracts were awarded most of the nation's 435 congressional districts had them. Most of those contracts involved only one or two hundred jobs, but for many local economics those jobs were very important. And local leaders let their congressmen know it.

Although politics guided some subcontracting decisions, it didn't guide them all. A project of the magnitude and complexity of the B-1 demanded a diversity of highly specialized skills, and production schedules entered into these decisions. But politics did too. "It paid not to be greedy," explained a Rockwell executive. "We made money on the subcontracts too." The result was a wide georgraphic distribution of jobs, a broad basis for skillful lobbying.

But there was a price to pay. Spreading the work around always complicated the logistics of building a weapon, and sometimes it compromised the quality.

Selling Akron

The floor debates on the B-1 in 1975 focused on military and strategic considerations. Was an expensive, new, penetrating bomber needed was part of the nuclear deterrent? Or was a standoff plane firing long-range cruise missiles the answer? The discussion was all very reasonable and responsible and serious.

But in the lobbying behind the scenes, the issue was jobs. The Air Force and Rockwell tried to turn a principal B-1 liability -- its stupendous cost -- into a national economic asset. Rockwell and its subcontractors bombarded Capitol Hill with statistics showing that the B-1 provided an economic bonanza for the entire nation -- not just the districts where the plane was being built. Rockwell's carefully biased analysis sought to demonstrate that a $15 billion investment in the B-1 would add $14.4 billion to the gross national product and produce 69,300 aerospace jobs and 122,700 jobs in supporting services. These 192,000 jobs would produce $28.6 billion in personal income after taxes, and the $13 billion in taxes on that income would reduce the fanciful bottom line from $15 billion to a mere $2 billion "investment for national security."

Rockwell lobbyists trotted out these figures for each state and congressional district. To counter Rep. John Seiberling from Akron, Ohio, one of the most knoledgeable and articulate B-1 opponents in the House, Rockwell's John Rane sent a brochure to Akron business and civic groups. Building the B-1 would create $60 million worth of new business in Ohio's 14th congressional district, the brochure stated: this new business would generate $133 million in disposable income after taxes. "In other wordd," the Rockwell pitch concluded, "you don't have to 'cut metal' on the B-1 in order to benefit from it."

That the health of the American economy somehow depended in part of large defense expenditures had been taken for granted by many politicians ever since World War II. But in the mid-1970s some congressmen began to contest that doctrine. To prove their case, congressmen like Seiberling and their economic advisers took Rockwell's data and stood them on their head.

Seiberling did his own economic study, which concluded that while his Ohio constituents paid $84 million in taxes for B-1, they received only $70 million in benefits in return. An infusion of defense dollars in Akron was not the answer, he maintained. The solution instead was to spend those dollars to create jobs that produced goods the society could really use.

The Public Interest Research Group at the University of Michigan challenged the benefits to the economy of defense spending. In a study called The Empty Pork Barrel, the Michigan analysis showed that spending for weapons procurement, a capital-intensive enterprise, produced 55,000 jobs for each $1 billion spent. However, public-sector spending on a mix of construction public work, services, and manufacturing produced 65,000 jobs per $1 billion. In this kind of analysis, each additional $1 billion in defense spending meant a net loss of 10,000 jobs.

Those who made the liberal case for conversion to a peacetime economy were mocked by the bomber's supporters. As Gerry Whipple, the UAW's tough-talking western regional vice-president, put in "California has been built on food, defense, and oil. You can't expect us to convert into industries for garbage disposal or cheap houses....The people making the B-1 bomber think they're working for the good of the community, and people have pride in it." His sentiments were widely shared. Neither Congress nor the country would in fact divert billion from the B-1 to build mass-transit systems, fund health-care programs, or improve public schools.

Doc and Johny show

Preparing for the 1975 congressional fight, Rockwell and Air Force lobbyists armed themselves with meticulous lists of every B-1 subcontract location, cross-referenced by state, town, and congressional district. The studies, prepared both by Rockwell and by the Air Force comptroller's office, showed how many dollars of B-1 money flowed into a congressional district each month. This information allowed the lobbyists to show members of Congress down to the last dollar how their constituents benefited from the B-1. The data became even more potent as subcontractors, majors and union leaders were enlisted to lobby their members of Congress.

Doc Watson headed the Rockwell group. A World War II fighter-pilot ace who joined Rockwell after retiring from the Air Force as a colonel, Watson was a Capitol Hill fixture. A small, jaunty man with an ear for a good story, he befriended congressmen and kept them ready to hear Rockwell's case for its defense projects. John Rane, a Rockwell aeronautical engineer, helped Watson keep members of Congress up to date on the technical status of Rockwell projects. They proudly called their team the "Doc and Johnny show."

Genevieve (Ginger) Allen, a young Mississippian who had joined Watson as a secretary, soon proved a bright and shrewd addition to the lobbying team. Watson felt that her beauty ehanced luncheon and dinner meetings with congressmen.

Whenever a critical congressional vote was on the agenda, Bastian (Buz) hello flew in from California to attend the Pentagon strategy sessions and direct Rockwell's lobbying activities. Hello, Rockwell's B-1 program manager, impressed the members with his low-key manner and total command of the details of the B-1. If he needed more clout, he could ask Rockwell president, Robert Anderson, or chairman of the board, Willard Rockwell Jr., to call members of Congress, the president, or the secretary of defense.

The Air Force side of the lobbying coalition was directed by Lt. General Marion Boswell, the assistant vice chief to staff. Colonel Grant Miller, an attorney who spoke with an Oklahoma twang, led the Air Force's B-1 drive on Capitol Hill. He targeted key votes and directed day-to-day strategy. At the Pentagon, Miller operated out of a special office across the hall from General David Jones, the Air Force chief of staff. With an easygoing, folksy manner, be befriended not only the B-1's congressional advocates but its leading opponents as well. That way, he kept well informed, and he kept his political lines open.

The Pentagon lobbying meetings were sometimes attended by John Gray, a staff representative of the Air Force Association, a powerful nationwide organization of active and retired Air Force personnel and other defense supporters. AS a nonprofit educational group, the association is technically prohibited from lobbying. But through its local chapters, it could encourage its 250,000 members to support the B-1 bomber.

One of Colonel Miller's first actions in 1975 was to do some research at the U.S. Department of Labor to find out which labor unions worked on the various B-1 contracts and how many union jobs were at stake. He soon knew exactly how many members of two major labor unions -- the United Automobile Workers and the International Association of Machinists -- worked in each B-1 plant.

At Miller's suggestion, Air Force Chief of Staff

A hunting trip or a campaign contribution was not a chip to be exchanged automatically for a contract or a favorable vote. But members of the club helped each other when they could. Jones met with the unions' presidents, Leonard Woodcock of the Autoworkers and Floyd (Red) Smith of the Machinists. General Jones carefully stressed the need for the B-1 to modernize the U.S. strategic deterrent. But the union chiefs clearly understood the job implications as well -- both ordered their unions to join forces with the Air Force-Rockwell lobbying coalition. Union support was vital, especially in influencing the liberal congressional Democrats most likely to oppose the bomber. Woodcock also ordered the UAW to quit a liberal coalition opposing the B-1 -- with the auto industry in trouble, aerospace jobs became all the more important.

The Air Force made lobbying assignments for government officials, generals, members of the Air Force Association, and cooperative members of Congress. Rockwell organized the other contractors who worked on the B-1. Company lobbyists in Washington held breakfast meetings at the Army-Navy Club on Farragut Square with representatives of such major B-1 Subcontractors as Boeing, General Electric, Avco, Eaton, AIL, Sunstrnad, LTV, Westinghouse, Goodyear Aerospace, and IBM, along with lobbyists from the United Auto Workers and the Machinists. At these sessions the participants decided which company would contact which congressmen. General Electric, with its huge engine plant in Ohio, focused on that state's delegation. LTV concentrated on the Texans. The AiResearch division of Garrett Corporation, which made the central air-data computer, focused on Arizona congressmen. AIL, which would make the systems that detect and jam enemy radar, lobbied the New York congressional delegation. Sunstrand Corporation of Rockford, which made the rudder control systems, concentrated on Illionis congressmen. The Harris Corporation, which made the electrical wiring system, contacted Florida congressmen. Sanders Electronics lobbied New Hampshire members. In addition, Rockwell brought to Washington the managers of its 167 local plants to lobby their elected representatives.

The Air Force even assigned a high-ranking general, Maj. Gen. James Allen, to work full-time promoting the B-1. He directed a speakers' bureau, which booked B-1 proponents to speak in states or districts represented by congressmen hostile to the B-1. Air Force officers would appear at a meeting of a local Chamber of Commerce of Air Force Association chapter to explain the B-1's importance to national security -- and to the local economy. Sometimes the speaker also pointed out when the local congressman or senator had not been supportive. At a meeting of the New Hampshire chapter of the Air Force Association, an officer spoke both about the virtues of the B-1 and about Senator Thomas McIntyre's equivocal support for it.

Weekend duck hunting

Rockwell supplemented its Washington lobbying with a secret grass-roots campaign code-named Operation Common Sense. James Daniell, a marketing vice-president in Rockwell's Pittsburgh office, directed the comprehensive promotional scheme. A onetime football star at Ohio State the World War II hero, Daniell was a dynamic booster who saw little difference between marketing a bomber and promoting a consumer product. His program included a massive letter-writing campaign by workers at Rockwell's 167 plants, solicitation of support from national organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, and production of films and advertisements as well as articles that willing editors could print in newspapers and magazines.

Daniell came to Washington to chain the monthly meetings of Operation Common Sense in the conference room of Rockwell's Washington officers on Pennsylvania Avenue. Participants worked on such disparate projects as soliciting the support of the National Council of Jewish Women and countering the promotional efforts of Rockwell's aerospace rivals who opposed penetration bombers like the B-1 in favor of "standoff" bombers that fired cruise missiles from long distances. The committee financed a thinly veiled B-1 promotional film, The threat: What One Can Do, and paid a $39,350 consulting fee to Washington Alert, a newsletter edited by news personality Martha Rountree, who wrote glowingly of the B-1's virtues.

Daniell's efforts went beyond Operation Common Sense. As a fishing and hunting companion of Chairman of the Board Rockwell, Daniell persuaded him to expand the lavish hospitality the company routinely provided for its favored commercial customers to include members of Congress, high-ranking military officers, and administration officials. Daniell and lobbyist Doc Watson coordinated the hospitality at four company retreats: a fishing complex at North Bimini Island in the Bahamas for winter weekends; a hunting plantation called Pinebloom near Albany, Georgia; a leased hunting lodge with 24 duck blinds on Wye Island in the Chesapeake Bay near Washington, D.C.; and Nemacolin, Willard Rockwell's own hideaway resort, complete with trout fishing, near Farmington, Pennsylvania. Many congressmen accepted invitations to these idyllic spots; so did top Pentagon officials such as Admiral Thomas Moorer, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Malcolm Currie, who as the Pentagon's director of defense research and engineering held authority over B-1 development.

Doc Watson and John Rane also kept busy in Washington. In one three-month period in 1974 they entertained or called on 155 members of Congress. When House Minority Leader Gerald Ford (soon to be president) needed rush transportation for a speech in Michigan and back to Washington the same night, Doc Watson commandeered a Rockwell plane for him.

A hunting trip or a campaign contribution was not a chip to be exchanged automatically for a contract or a favorable vote. Members of the club helped each other when they could, as others do in many fields of special-interest politics. They saw themselves as patriots, in general alliance against politicians they regarded as dangerous or misguided -- McGovern, Seiberling, and others whom they thought underestimated the Soviet threat and would disarm the country.

The fellowship of weekend duck hunting was a form of friendship. Doc Watson and Massachusetts Rep. Silvio Conte, ranking Republican member on the House Defense Appropriations Sucommittee, for example, were friends with strong common bonds. Conte helped Rockwell and often enjoyed the company's hospitality, including one Wye Island excursion in which he shot a prize buck deer. But there came a time when Conte told Watson that constituent pressure would no longer permit him to vote for the B-1. Despite strong disapproval from his superiors in Pittsburgh, Watson kept Conte on the Rockwell hospitality roster.

Like hundreds of other corporations, Rockwell took advantage of a 1974 campaign financing law intended to promote reform. The new law made it legal for corporations to run political action committees (PACs) with money volunteered by employees. In short order, Rockwell was contributing more than $100,000 in an election year to candidatess who could best help the corporation's defense business.

Rockwell's promotional, entertainment, and campaign contribution schemes were still gaining steam in 1975, when some of the strategies began to backfire. Rockwell's "grass-roots" letter-writing campaign, for example, turned out to be a little too well organized and orchestrated. Rep. Les Aspin, a Wisconsin Democrat, was besieged with 300 pro-B-1 letters from workers. They were written on five different colors of stationery but were nearly identical in content. Aspin's staff finally traced the letter-writing campaign to an Admiral television plant in Harvard, Illinois, just across the border from his congressional district. Admiral had no part at all in the B-1, it just happened to be a subsidiary of Rockwell. One Admiral letter-writer handed the B-1 opponents a golden postscript: "I've been asked to do this," the Admiral worker wrote to Aspin, "Vote any way you want."

Rockwell's hard-nosed congressional lobbying, based almost exclusively on jobs, seemed heavy-handed -- even to the Air Force. General Boswell admonished his associates that the B-1 had to be sold primarily on its defense merits. The assumption that a few jobs back home could change their minds on an important national defense issue offended some congressmen. For example, Rep. Thomas Downey, a Long Island Democrat elected in the anti-Vietnam, anti-Watergate class of 1974, resented the lobbying by a dozen Long Island firms with a piece of the B-1 action: "They figured if they built the windshield blades in your district, you were for it." Downey supported most of the large defense contracts helping his constituents, but not the B-1.

Getting Nunn

As the B-1 appropriations approached a vote in June 1975, Rockwell and Air Force worried about a rebellion among Senate Democrats. Senators Alan Cranston and John Tunney of California took the lead in advocating production of the B-1, which would provide thousands of jobs in their state. But the Air Force did not consider them effective advocates, fearing that their self-interest and their reputations as doctrinaire antidefense liberals would weaken their credibility. If the Democratic majority in the Senate was to be convinced that the bomber deserved support on its merits, more credible leadership was needed.

The lobbying coalition took aim at two influential Democratic senators: John Glenn of Ohio, whose defense pronouncements carried the weight of his experience and celebrity as a Marine pilot and astronaut, and Sam Nunn, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, with a growing reputation as a military expert. Neither had committed himself to support the B-1. If they turned against the project, others were likely to follow.

To influence Glenn, the Air Force and Rockwell first called on all the obvious assets. Glenn was lobbied hard by the United Automobile Workers and by executives and union officials from General Electric, which was manufacturing the B-1's engines outside Cincinnati. GE was the largest employer in Ohio, and the UAW was among Glenn's major supporters. Rockwell further enticed him by assinging B-1 work to a long-idle plant in Columbus. Despite these overtures, however, Glenn would not commit himself.

The key to confincing Glenn came from a legislative aide, who told Air Force and Rockwell lobbyists that Glenn did not think the B-1 bomber was necessary as part of the strategic nuclear deterrent -- but that he did believe strongly in the need for a new bomber to flight in a conventional war.

This information threw the Air Force into a dilemma. Some officers privately agreed with Glenn, but the leadership, dominated by the Strategic Air Command, scorned the notion that their $100 million superbomber would be part of the conventional fighting force -- that would be like hitching a thoroughbred to a milk wagon. It had no plans even to install racks for conventional bombs in the B-1.

Nevertheless, the Air Force decided to pay lip service to Glenn's ideas. General Russell E. Dougherty, the SAC commander in 1975, sent his deputy, General Kelly Burke, to assure Glenn of SAC's "strong interest" in conventional bombing. Glenn wanted more than interest. He asked for a written commitment that the B-1 would be equipped to carry conventional booms. On the eve of the Senate vote, Air Force aides hand-carried a letter to Glenn from Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger promising that the B-1s eventually would be outfitted for conventional non-nuclear bombing. After reading Schlesinger's letter aloud on the Senate floor, Glenn finally cast his vote for the B-1. Yet one Air Force general later said, "There was no damn way we were going to risk losing a $100 million strategic asset in some conventional shootout. But if the senator wanted us to say we'd do that, we were ready to oblige him."

Georgia Senator Nunn presented a more puzzling problem. Although a strong military supporter, he remained noncommittal on the B-1. On previous occasions the Air Force had been able to appeal to Nunn's parochial interest for weapons built by Lockheed or Martin Marietta; those aerospace giants were major employers in Georgia. But little B-1 work was being done in the state.

The lobbying coalition tried to influence Nunn through Dr. Daniel Callahan, a Georgia friend. Callahan practiced medicine in Warner Robins, Georgia, home of Robins Air Force Base. As president of the mid-Georgia chapter of the Air Force Association, Callahan encourage his four thousand members with the motto: "Every day in middle Georgia is Air Force Appreciation Day." When Callahan urged Nunn to support the B-1, the senator knew that the doctor spoke for a formidable advocacy group -- one concerned not only about the Air Force but about the health of its area's major economic resource, the gaint base that provided 20,000 jobs and a $450 million annual payroll. Senator Nunn finally cast his vote for the B-1.

In the end, the 1975 effort to kill the B-1 in the Senate, led by Senator McGovern and Senator William Proxmire of Wisconsin, failed by a vote of 57 to 32. A similar effort in the House failed too, although a motion by Rep. Les Aspin to eliminate preproduction funding for the bomber collected a suprising 164 votes.

At about this time General Boswell told Air Force lobbyists to get rid of the records of their well-coordinated campaign of "who's on who" with an emphasis on B-1-created jobs. They did. In addition to general questions of propriety, Air Force leaders suspected that Senator Proxmire, the scourge of the military, soon would expose the whole lobbying plan.

Within a few months, Proxmire had a field day as a muckraker. At a Senator hearing, he cross-examined Rockwell President Anderson about the company's secret campaign contributions to Richard Nixon in 1972; about the Operation Common Sense grass-roots lobbying blitz; about free winter vacations taken by Pentagon officials on Bimini in 1974; and about the Chesapeake Bay hunting weekends enjoyed by the Pentagon sportsman, when Rockwell not only provided accommodations but took care of cleaning and dressing and geese.

Proxmire disclosed that the Pentagon's Defense Contract Audit Agency had disallowed $183,435 in Rockwell lobbying expenses and another $143,947 in entertainment expenses for the years 1974 and 1975. A later audit showed $653,000 in disallowed lobbying expenses, including $115,895 for Operation Common Sense and a "Keep the B-1 Sold" public-relations campaign, plus $83,645 in "military relations costs" for sending speakers around the country. Rockwell had charged all these expenses to the taxpayer as part of the costs incurred in building the B-1.

After being grilled by Proxmire and subjected to embarrassing newspaper headlines, Anderson testily asked Doc Watson, "Are you still proud of your duck blinds (on Wye Island)?"

"Well," replied Watson, ever the Washington pragmatist, "we got the B-1 and the space shuttle contracts, and we've made a lot of friends."

High stakes

When Rockwell's Doc Watson and other members of the B-1 lobbying coalition retired, their places were quickly filled by other capable industry and military representatives who carried on the fight for the bomber.

The ultimate success of the B-1 network derived in part from the professional knowledge of its lobbyists, and from their friendships with members of Congress. The cause was helped by rewarding supportive congressmen with campaign contributions. But the ultimate power of the B-1 coalition rested upon deeply rooted, permanent interests, in which many people and institutions held high stakes.

For the Air Force, a new strategic bomber represented the heat of that service's military doctrine -- that wars could be won by devastating enemies with long-range strategic airpower. The Air Force won its independence from the Army in 1946 on the basis of its unique ability to accomplish this mission. Without a new bomber, the proud Air Force's strategic role would be reduced to that of pushing buttons in the bottom of missile silos. A succession of Air Force leaders presisted in fighting for the prestigious B-1, even at the cost of sacrificing other vital air needs, such as planes to provide transportation and close support to troops on the battlefield.

For Rockwell International, the bomber held the fate of its North American Aviation division for nearly three decades. Success offered hundreds of millions in profits. Defeat meant bankruptcy.

And for communities throughout the country, the bomber project represented the promise of prosperity -- and the fear of economic stagnation. With thousands of jobs at stake in building the bomber of serving as its home bases, dozens of local communities never wavered in their grassroots political support.

This permanent B-1 consistuency persisted even through periods of political adversity. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter fulfilled a campaign pledge to cancel production of the B-1, saying it was unneeded and a waste of money. Despite Carter's opposition and often acting without his knowledge, the B-1's friends in the Defense Department, Air Force, Congress, and industry nevertheless managed to keep the project alive with research money from 1977 through 1980 -- awaiting the results of the next election.

Fulfilling his own campaign promises, Ronald Reagan revived the B-1 in 1981, despite Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger's preference to bypass it for an even more sophisticated bomber called the Stealth. Reagan approved the Air Force's request to build both bombers.

Broad-based Air force and industry lobbying drives, similar to those behind the B-1, are now underway on behalf of the top-secret Stealth bomber and the Strategic Defense Initiative. Both Stealth and SDI are beset with problems -- soaring costs, huge technological and military uncertainties, and a national budget deficit that is requiring cutbacks in the defense budget. Supporters of both programs are prepared to wage long, difficult, political fights before these projects finally come to fruition. If the history of the B-1 Foretells the future, they will stay the course and prevail.

Lobbying coalitions have long been an integral part of the Washington political system. But the B-1 effort was different. Military officers are forbidden by law from lobbying Congress, not to mention doing so in coordination with the defense industry.

PHOTO: Nick Kotz won a National Magazine Award in 1985 for his reporting on the military. This article is adapted from his book, Wild Blue Yonder: Money, Politics, and the B-1 Bomber, to the published in March by Pantheon Books.

PHOTO: Ralph J. "Coc" Watson, chief Rockwell lobbyist, with Tip O'Neill, former Speaker of the House.
COPYRIGHT 1988 Washington Monthly Company
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1988, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:controversial B-1 bombers procurement
Author:Kotz, Nick
Publication:Washington Monthly
Date:Feb 1, 1988
Words:5683
Previous Article:The poker player; as a governor, Bruce Babbitt was not only smart, he was effective.
Next Article:The real monkey business; it was Gary and Billy, not Gary and Donna.
Topics:


Related Articles
Sack Weinberger, bankrupt General Dynamics, and other procurement reforms.
New acid rain threat identified.
Long-range bombers: How many does the U.S. need?.
U.S., U.K. vow stronger industrial cooperation: trade reform, outsourcing efforts could lead to growing business opportunities.
Procurement ethics: investigators band together against contracting fraud.
Subject: Extension of Partnership Agreement Between the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Department of Defense.
Defense Contract Management Agency (Jan. 4, 2006).

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters