Army chief nom­i­nee McHugh pushed de­fense funds

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY JIM MCELHATTON

Be­fore he was named by Pres­i­dent Obama to be the next Army sec­re­tary, Rep. John M. McHugh of New York had asked Congress to set aside tens of mil­lions of dol­lars in next year’s bud­get for de­fense con­trac­tors that now could fall un­der his com­mand as the Army’s civil­ian leader.

Mr. McHugh, the top Repub­li­can on the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, re­quested that more than $40 mil­lion in “earmarks” be in­serted into a 2010 de­fense ap­pro­pri­a­tions bill, in­clud­ing more than $8 mil­lion ben­e­fit­ing an Army base in his home state, ac­cord­ing to records.

His wish list also in­cluded $4.7 mil­lion for Lock­heed Martin, one of the Army’s largest con­trac­tors, whose prod­ucts range from tac­ti­cal mis­siles to bat­tle­field com­bat sys­tems. Lock­heed’s em­ploy­ees and po­lit­i­cal action com­mit­tee have been sources of po­lit­i­cal cash for Mr. McHugh, ac­count­ing for $35,000 in cam­paign do­na­tions over the years, ac­cord­ing the non­par­ti­san Cen­ter for Re­spon­sive Pol­i­tics.

Crit­i­cized by some as pork-bar­rel spending, earmarks are the spe­cial spending pro­vi­sions that mem­bers of Congress slip into spending bills to di­rect money to pet projects.

A spokes­woman said Mr. McHugh won’t be in­volved in any con­tract­ing de­ci­sions as Army sec­re­tary if his nom­i­na­tion is con­firmed and that he never let cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions af­fect his de­ci­sions as a con­gress­man.

“The Army pro­cure­ment process is ap­pro­pri­ately made in­de­pen­dently, and those firms re­ceiv­ing con­tracts are cho­sen out­side of the di­rect au­thor­ity of the sec­re­tary of the Army,” McHugh spokes­woman Stephanie Valle said. “If con­firmed as sec­re­tary, Con­gress­man McHugh would ex­er­cise no di­rect role in that process.”

Mr. McHugh also re­quested $2 mil­lion for Rockwell Collins Inc., an Iowa-based de­fense con­trac­tor with a fa­cil­ity in up­state New York. Un­til ear­lier this year, the com­pany was a client of the trou­bled PMA Group lob­by­ing firm, which closed re­cently af­ter re­ports that the FBI had raided the firm amid an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into sus­pected cam­paign-fi­nance vi­o­la­tions. Nei­ther the firm nor its em­ploy­ees have been charged with any wrong­do­ing.

Mr. McHugh’s of­fice and Rockwell Collins say PMA played no role in se­cur­ing the con­gress­man’s help on the $2 mil­lion Rockwell Collins ear­mark re­quest. None­the­less, Mr. McHugh’s of­fice has re­viewed all of the PMAre­lated do­na­tions and is pre­pared to an­swer ques­tions about them if they are raised dur­ing con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings.

“The con­gress­man has never let a con­tri­bu­tion in­flu­ence any vote or action as an elected of­fi­cial, and he stands ready to re­spond to any ques­tions the Se­nate may put be­fore him,” Ms. Valle said.

Ac­cord­ing to data from the Cen­ter for Re­spon­sive Pol­i­tics, PMA’s po­lit­i­cal action com­mit­tee, its em­ploy­ees and its clients gave $160,250 to Mr. McHugh’s con­gres­sional cam­paigns over the years, rank­ing him in the top 15 per­cent of re­cip­i­ents in Congress of PMA funds, though still far short of the es­ti­mated $2.4 mil­lion do­nated to Rep. John P. Murtha, Penn­syl­va­nia Demo­crat, and $1.4 mil­lion to Rep. Peter J. Vis­closky, In­di­ana Demo­crat.

While the cam­paigns of Mr. Vis­closky and a few other fed­eral law­mak­ers have be­gun get­ting rid of PMA do­na­tions, Mr. McHugh has no im­me­di­ate plans to do so, ac­cord­ing to his of­fice.

Ms. Valle said an out­side ac­coun­tant re­viewed the do­na­tions “and, to the best of our knowl­edge, the con­tri­bu­tions were fully le­gal.”

“The money has been se­questered,” she said, “and if cir­cum­stances change, the con­gress­man fully in­tends to dis­pose of the money in an ap­pro­pri­ate man­ner.”

Other de­fense projects pro­posed by Mr. McHugh in­clude $5 mil­lion for Syra­cuse Re­search Corp. for sur­veil­lance tech­nol­ogy, $2 mil­lion to Leg­end Tech­nolo­gies for a “re­mote sight­ing sys­tem” and $8 mil­lion to a joint project by the Trudeau In­sti­tute in Saranac Lake, N.Y., and the Naval Health Re­search Cen­ter in San Diego. He also has asked for fund­ing for an $8.2 mil­i­tary construction project at the Fort Drum Army Base in up­state New York.

In ad­di­tion to the de­fense-re­lated earmarks, Mr. McHugh is ask­ing for more than $70 mil­lion in 2010 for what his of­fice calls “do­mes­tic” spending re­quests. The re­quests range from $150,000 to ren­o­vate the Amer­i­can Maple Mu­seum to tens of mil­lions of dol­lars for non­profit groups such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of Amer­ica and the na­tional Read­ing Is Fun­da­men­tal pro­gram.

But given his nom­i­na­tion as Army sec­re­tary, it’s Mr. McHugh’s de­fense re­quests that are catch­ing the at­ten­tion of watch­dog or­ga­ni­za­tions.

“On one hand, it’s not sur­pris­ing the de­fense in­dus­try would do­nate to a se­nior mem­ber of the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee,” said Steve El­lis, a spokesman for the non­par­ti­san Tax­pay­ers for Com­mon Sense. “At the same time, he did in­ter­vene on be­half of a client of the dis­cred­ited and fed­er­ally in­ves­ti­gated PMA Group. I’m not say­ing it’s dis­qual­i­fy­ing, but it’s def­i­nitely some­thing that should be ex­am­ined.”

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IM­AGES

Rep. John M. McHugh

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