Nightly News   |  February 01, 2010

Clipping the wings of C-17s

Fleecing of America: The Pentagon says it wants to stop buying C-17 planes, but congress just voted to build 10 more—at a cost of $2.5 billion to taxpayers. NBC's Lisa Myers reports.

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>> house for us tonight. thanks.

>>> even as washington struggles to find ways to save money, there are lots of items in the budget that are hard to explain, including a big ticket item for the pentagon, that even the pentagon doesn't want. it's the massive c-17 cargo plane , very same aircraft that carried us back from haiti along with a plane load of haitian evacuees. the air force has a lot of them. they're about to get more of them, and that's the problem. our senior investigative correspondent lisa myers has more in tonight's "fleecing of america" report.

>> reporter: the c-17 cargo plane is the workhorse of the military. it carries troops and equipment to war zones, helps in a crisis like haiti. just about everyone agrees the c-17 is a terrific plane. but the pentagon has said it has enough and wants to stop buying them. still, congress just voted to build 10 more planes. cost, $2.5 billion. today the president said this makes no sense.

>> unrequested money for more c-17s that the pentagon doesn't want or need. it's waste, pure and simple.

>> reporter: since 2006 , congress has forced the pentagon to buy 43 c-17s it did not request. last fall, defense secretary robert gates warned that buying more planes diverts limited resources. and will invariably result in a reduction in critical war fighting capability. john mccain has fought to stop building the planes. if the secretary of defense says these are not needed, the air force says these are not needed, why is congress buying them?

>> because they have subcontractors in every state in the union, and most congressional districts .

>> reporter: cargo doors from missouri, engines from connecticut, in all, components from 44 states assembled in california. a sort of political engineering , spreading contracts and building congressional support. so far that has made the plane almost impossible to kill. opponents claim that 30,000 jobs are at stake and the planes are needed.

>> we must keep our industrial base, the ability to produce strategic airlift rather than having to rely in the future on russia or other foreign countries.

>> reporter: the president said given his freeze on much domestic spending, waste cannot be tolerated.

>> even though the department of defense is exempt from the budget freeze, it's not exempt from budget common sense .

>> reporter: a fleecing of america that the pentagon says actually takes money from the troops and hurts their ability to fight. lisa myers , nbc news, washington.

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