Yes, my friends, it costs $17,000 for the Defense Department to buy a drip pan for helicopters. They normally cost $2,500. But not drip pans made in Kentucky.
But why should the defense department pay $17,000 for a drip pan made in Kentucky? Because of an earmark inserted into the budget. It was inserted by a Congressman from Mississippi.
Just kidding. It was inserted into the bill by a Congressman from Kentucky.
How much money are we talking about? Peanuts. A mere $6.5 million worth of drip pans.
I mean, who would notice, other than the New York Times?
The Kentucky company, Phoenix Products, got the job to produce the pans after Representative Harold Rogers, a Republican who is now the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, added an earmark to a 2009 spending bill. While the earmark came before restrictions were placed on such provisions for for-profit companies, its outlays have continued for the last three years.
The company’s owners are political contributors to the congressman, who has been called the “Prince of Pork” by The Lexington Herald-Leader for his history of delivering federal contracts to donors and others back home.
These drip pans are crucial to America’s mission, Mr. Rogers says.
“It’s important that Congress do what it can to provide our military with the best resources to ensure their safety and advance our missions abroad, while also saving taxpayer dollars wherever possible. These dripping pans help accomplish both of these goals.”
Drip, drip, drip: the solvency of the United States government drips away.
No one would have noticed, except for a competitor. The competitor took the complaint to Congress.
He got nowhere.
Then he took it to an organization with the most utopian name in Washington, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. The group requested documents from the government under the Freedom of Information Act.
The Army turned over some information but said it did not have any specifications or designs for the drip pans that might explain the price. That was considered proprietary information held by Phoenix Products.
Mr. Rogers has an aide, of course. Aides are used to spin reporters. A reporter who is forced to deal with an aide is being sent a not-so-subtle message: “You are irrelevant. So is your newspaper. The Congressman has better things to do than deal with a reporter from a media outlet not in his district. Are we clear on this?” We’re clear.
The aide said that the Army demanded this specialized drip pan.
The Army, however, said it was simply following a budget directive from Congress. Mr. Rogers’s earmark came before House members informally agreed to ban such provisions to for-profit companies.
“Congress mandated a leakproof transmission drip pan,” said Dov Schwartz, an Army spokesman. The contract was awarded without competitive bids because Phoenix was the only company deemed “approved and certified” for the work, he said. “The number of people that make leakproof transmission dripping pans is few and far between,” Mr. Schwartz said, adding that the steel required for such pans is more costly than the plastic used in other versions.
There will always be skeptics in the media, looking to connect dots, when there are no dots to connect. You know. Like this.
Tom Wilson, who owns Phoenix Products, defended his company’s pans as better constructed and more durable than others on the market. Asked what made them so costly, he declined to discuss specifics, saying that disclosure of the company’s custom design could help competitors or even aid America’s enemies.
Mr. Wilson and his wife, Peggy, who is the president of the company, have been frequent contributors to Mr. Rogers’s political committee, as well as to Republican groups. The company has paid at least $600,000 since 2005 to a Washington lobbying firm, Martin Fisher Thompson & Associates, to represent its interests on federal contracting issues, records show.
Mr. Rogers, in turn, has been a strong supporter of the manufacturer. He has directed more than $17 million in work orders for Phoenix Products since 2000.
This sort of thing is common among reporters. There is a simple explanation.
Mr. Wilson said he did not think that his company’s relationship with Mr. Rogers or its Washington connections were a major factor in the Army’s decision to buy his pan. His company got the work, he said, because its drip pan was “just simply a better product.”
That makes sense to me. How about you?