WASHINGTON — The House is ordering up three Gulfstream jets to fly Pentagon and other top government officials — including members of Congress — around the globe in conditions far cushier than coach class.
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The almost $200 million appropriation to buy three C-37 jets, the military version of the Gulfstream 550, is buried in a $636 billion Pentagon budget passed by the House last week. It's not as fancy as the version sold to private customers, but still is a very nice ride.
The Pentagon asked for only one of the $65 million planes as part of an ongoing effort to replace aging jets such as the C-20, an older Gulfstream Aerospace Corp. plane that costs about $6,100 an hour to operate, compared with less than $2,700 for the C-37, according to department figures.
The move raised eyebrows from some Congress-watchers since the planes are sometimes used to ferry lawmakers on overseas trips. And the House measure directs that two of the aircraft be located at Andrews Air Force Base in the Washington suburbs — a favored departure point for congressional trips.
"Congress decided, 'No, no, you're going to buy two more — and those two are going to go to those units right here at Andrews,'" said Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a budget watchdog group.
"The Air Force is planning to replace these planes," said House Appropriations Committee spokesman Ellis Brachman. "The question is whether to do it sooner rather than later."
Among the members of Congress who fly on the planes is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who generally flies Pentagon aircraft between Washington and her home in San Francisco. The Pentagon began supplying the planes to her predecessor as Speaker, Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., as part of beefed-up post-Sept. 11, 2001 security steps.
But Pelosi generally flies commercial on political and personal travel such as a trip Thursday between San Francisco and Denver in which she flew first class, accompanied by a security agent.
The Pentagon describes the mission of the planes as flying "worldwide special air missions for high-ranking government and Defense Department officials."
According to Appropriations panel spokesman Brachman, members of Congress have been responsible for just one in seven of the flights, with Pentagon brass, White House officials and other Cabinet executives taking up the rest.
The planes are made in Georgia by Gulfstream, a subsidiary of General Dynamics. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., wrote the Appropriations panel to request $70 million for one of the planes. But the panel did not report this under disclosure rules since Congress was simply expanding an existing program.
The purchase of the planes was reported Wednesday by the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call.
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