Saturday, October 27, 2007

Best Fleet money can buy?

Yes, it is chump change in the large scheme of things - but it does give you a sniff of the Potomac that everyone should bask in now and then to fully appreciate its nature.
Tucked away on Seattle's Portage Bay, a sleek, 85-foot speedboat sat idle for years — save for an annual jaunt to maintain its engine.

The Navy paid $4.5 million to build the boat. But months before the hull ever touched water, the Navy gave the boat to the University of Washington. The school never found a use for it, either.

Why would the Navy waste taxpayer dollars on a boat that nobody wanted?

Blame it on Sen. Patty Murray and Congressmen Norm Dicks and Brian Baird. All three exercised their political muscle to slip language into a 2002 spending bill to force the Navy to buy the boat from Edmonds shipbuilder Guardian Marine International.

Year after year, the Washington lawmakers did favors for the tiny company, inserting four "earmarks" into different bills to force the Navy and Coast Guard to buy boats they didn't ask for — $17.65 million in all. None of the boats was used as Congress intended.

The congressional trio say they were helping Guardian Marine because it had a great product. But each has also received generous campaign donations from the company's three executives, its sole employees: $14,277 to Baird, $15,000 to Murray, and $16,750 to Dicks.

Company founder Richard Martinson had developed a "fast patrol boat," a hybrid of a speedboat and a ship, 85 feet long and capable of up to 40 knots, like crossing a sports car with a recreational vehicle.

The plan was to sell the $4 million patrol boat to foreign governments, but Martinson, a former Coast Guard commander, said sales floundered.

Martinson's fortunes brightened not long after he made his first recorded contribution to a congressional campaign in June 1998. He gave $500 to the re-election fund of Dicks, whom he knew when they lived a few doors apart at UW's Terry Hall in the 1960s.

In fall 1999, Dicks and Baird added a line in the defense bill to have the Navy buy Guardian Marine's $4 million boat.

Dicks urged the Navy to assign the boat to the Navy SEALs or other high-speed missions. But the boat was never deployed on any combat missions. It is now in Carderock, Md., "being used to evaluate new and emergent maritime technology," a Navy spokesman said.

Guardian Marine gained another powerful advocate in 2001 in Sen. Murray, who had just become chair of an appropriations subcommittee.
Murray added a $4.65 million earmark to the 2002 defense bill and left the Coast Guard no choice about which boat it would buy, specifying in the bill that it had to be "a currently-developed 85-foot fast patrol craft that is manufactured in the United States."
Guardian Marine gained political muscle. From 2001 to 2002, executives of the two companies would give more than $22,000 in campaign funds to members of their local delegations, including $3,000 to Murray.

But even as the third Guardian Marine boat was being assembled, the Navy decided it didn't want it and transferred it to the UW's Applied Physics Laboratory.

UW researchers concluded it would take $750,000 to make it usable. The university tried to get the Navy to take it back. For years, the boat was docked outside the school.

To maintain the boat, staff ran it at full speed once a year. "We're sort of trapped in doing the routine things that need to be done," Russell McDuff, director of the School of Oceanography, said earlier this year.

The Navy recently assigned the boat to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle.

Although none of the three Guardian Marine boats were used as Congress intended, Murray, Dicks and Baird inserted a $4.5 million earmark for a fourth boat in the 2004 defense bill. This time, they said the speedboat was needed to retrieve torpedoes at the Navy base in Keyport, Kitsap County.

The Navy did buy a fourth Guardian Marine speedboat but assigned it to a base in California for evaluation.

In the past four years, executives of Guardian Marine and Oregon Iron Works have given nearly $125,000 in contributions to Congress members.

I am only picking out Navy/USMC items from the article, so read it all. It isn't all harmless.
Rep. David Wu, D-Ore., directed the Marines to buy $2 million of combat T-shirts from an Oregon company. But they couldn't be used in battle in Iraq due to a subsequent ban on polyester garments that could melt under fire and badly burn the troops.
In June 2005, Rep. Wu of Oregon arrived in Iraq and handed out free T-shirts to Marines. He was promoting the wares of InSport, a Portland-area company that makes fast-drying polyester shirts.

Earlier that year, Wu and other Northwest lawmakers got a $2 million earmark in the defense bill to sell T-shirts to the Marines. Wu said the shirts would be far more comfortable than the cotton ones the Marines wore under body armor.

But there was a big problem with these T-shirts, a problem encountered in the deserts of Iraq and in 1982 during the Falklands invasion.

Polyester clothing melts in intense heat, adhering to the skin. "This essentially creates a second skin and can lead to horrific, disfiguring burns," said Capt. Lynn E. Welling, the 1st Marine Logistics Group head surgeon, who conducted research in Iraq in early 2006.

Months after Wu's visit, a Marine wearing a polyester T-shirt was riding in an armored vehicle in Iraq when a bomb hidden on the road exploded. Even though the Marine wore a protective vest, the shirt melted in the explosion, contributing to severe burns over 70 percent of his body. Doctors had to extract the shirt's remains from the Marine's torso.

In April 2006, the Marines banned polyester T-shirts for use in combat or anywhere outside the protected "Green Zone" bases.

But in July, because of Wu's earmark, the Marines announced the purchase of 87,000 of the banned polyester T-shirts, along with 11,000 T-shirts with fire-resistant sleeves. None was allowed in battle, the Marines said.

David Costello, a lobbyist for InSport, said that when InSport and Wu sought the earmark, the company thought the troops' body armor would prevent the shirts from melting. Once the Marines banned these kinds of shirts, they were instead used for training.

Wu's spokeswoman said the Marines were happy to have funds for the shirts, citing a thank-you letter from the Secretary of the Navy that came a month before the ban.

Even after the ban, Wu inserted another $1 million earmark in the next defense bill to make the Marines buy the InSport shirts again, noting that the company was working to develop a heat-resistant shirt for combat use.

The Marines instead used that money to buy flame-resistant fleece garments from InSport.

Executives of InSport and its owner, Vital Apparel, donated $6,100 to Wu's campaign in a single day at the end of the earmark "season."

The day after the bill passed on Sept. 29, 2006, one executive gave another $750 to Wu. Two others followed with identical donations within three weeks.

But by then, the Marine Corps had done months of testing to find the best fire-resistant T-shirts. It selected two shirts, one made by Potomac Field Gear, the other by Danskin, according to the Marines.

InSport's T-shirt — even its new fire-resistant version — still can't be used in combat, said 1st Lt. Geraldine Carey of the Marine Corps Systems Command.
An outstanding story by the Seattle Times. Just outstanding. More digging by David Heath and Hal Bernton please. The taxpayer and the Navy thanks you. BTW, make sure and click through via the above pic on the original article and read who got what by whom. Rep. Murtha (D-PA) is doing quite well for those who feed his war criminals so well ....

BTW, though Wu's party affiliation is mentioned in the article (D) - the others are not. Just FYI, here they are; Baird (D-WA), Dicks (D-WA), Murray (D-WA). Interesting.

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