New F-22 rules leave Guard in holding pattern

May 17, 2012 

In an earlier post, I reported on the lawsuit filed against Lockheed Martin, manufacturer of the F-22, by the widow of an F-22 pilot who died in a crash in Alaska in 2010.   As William Cole reports in today’s Honolulu Star Advertiser “New F-22 rules leave Guard in holding pattern” (May 16, 2012), the number of reported cases of pilot hypoxia (lack of oxygen) among F-22 pilots is widespread, forcing the Pentagon to impose flight restrictions on all F-22s.

The Hawaii Air National Guard was waiting on orders Tuesday to see whether its F-22 Raptor fighters would be affected after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta imposed new flight restrictions — the latest setback for the costly and controversial jet.

The Pentagon said that effective immediately, all F-22 flights would remain within the “proximity” of potential landing locations to enable quick recovery and landing should a pilot experience hypoxialike symptoms, or not being able to get enough oxygen.

The Hawaii Air Guard and active-duty Air Force fly and maintain 14 of the stealthy jets at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, with the arrival of the six remaining Raptors to Hawaii — rounding out the squadron of 20 aircraft — delayed for unexplained reasons.

There have been other pilots coming forward to express their concerns about the Raptor:

According to the news program “60 Minutes,” which recently aired a segment about two Virginia Air National Guard pilots who stepped forward to discuss hypoxia incidents and concerns about the safety of the F-22, 36 of 200 Raptor pilots — or about 18 percent — have experienced problems.

Capt. Josh Wilson, one of those pilots, said he noticed issues on a flight in February 2011.

“Several times during the flight I had to really concentrate, immense concentration on doing just simple, simple tasks,” he said. Wilson said he thinks the problem stems from not getting the quality or quantity of oxygen needed, or there is contamination in the air flow.

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said Tuesday that seven more airmen who work with the F-22, including flight surgeons, have come forward to report cases of hypoxialike symptoms, Air Force Times reported.

The Hawaii Air National Guard reports that there have been “no official complaints, no incidents” involving Hawai’i F-22 pilots.   But this latest order marks only the latest setback for this expensive, some would say extravagant and unnecessary, fighter jet.

The Raptor, the Air Force’s most advanced fighter, is also the most expensive fighter jet ever, with a total program cost of $77.4 billion, or $412 million a plane with research and development and upgrades.

The Air Force has not been able to pinpoint the cause of the hypoxia, which began cropping up in 2008.


The Air Force’s entire Raptor fleet was grounded twice in 2011 over hypoxia concerns, including a nearly five-month stand-down.

California study shows low levels of perchlorate affect infants

December 12, 2010 

A new study shows newborns in perchlorate contaminated areas have a 50% chance of having impaired thyroid function. Perchlorate is an oxidizer used in rocket propellant that attacks the thyroid. It has been detected in groundwater in Nohili, Kaua’i near the caves where munitions are stored. I think it was also detected in Schofield (Lihu’e). The levels detected in Hawai’i were below the federal limit (around 25 parts per billion) but above the California limit (5 ppb).   Needless to say, when asked about conducting further investigations and cleaning  up the contamination, the military dismissed the perchlorate contamination as insignificant. The Department of Defense has fought efforts to set tougher standards for perchlorate.  Here’s an excerpt from a Press Enterprise article on the California infant health study:

A new analysis by state scientists found that low levels of a rocket fuel chemical common in Inland drinking water supplies appear to be more harmful to newborn babies than previously believed, prompting calls for a tougher limit for tap water.

Scientists with the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment examined records of blood samples drawn from the heels of 497,458 newborns in 1998 as part of a California disease-screening program.

The researchers found that the babies born in areas where tap water was contaminated with perchlorate — including babies in Riverside and San Bernardino — had a 50 percent chance of having a poorly performing thyroid gland, said Dr. Craig Steinmaus, lead author of the study published in this month’s Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.


Donations flow from beneficiaries of earmarks

December 13, 2009 

Another article highlighting the military pork – campaign contribution connection for Hawai’i's Congressional delegation.  Again, this is the game that the UARC / Project Kai ‘e’e scandal was a part of.


Donations flow in from beneficiaries of earmark funds

Hawaii’s congressional delegation collected more than $228K from recipients

By Richard Borreca

POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Dec 13, 2009

Hawaii’s four-person congressional delegation has picked up $228,560 in campaign donations from companies or organizations that they designated for federal earmarks.

Leading the list compiled with Federal Election Commission data going back to 2007 was Sen. Daniel Inouye, who collected $173,000.

The figures come from a study made by the anti-earmark group Taxpayers for Common Sense and the government reform organization Center for Responsive Politics.

Of the companies getting earmarks from Inouye, defense contractor Lockheed Martin gave Hawaii’s senior senator the most money — $61,300 since 2007.

The earmark went for “development and field test of a situational awareness and tactical decision support system for a counter-sniper weapon system,” according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.

“My campaign activities are kept very separate and are in full compliance with federal and state law,” Inouye said in an e-mail from his press secretary Friday.

Earmarks are federal funds given to companies, projects or organizations. The funds are not part of the usual appropriation request, are usually not subject to a public hearing and are requested by a specific member of Congress.

Critics say they lead to unchecked federal spending. Others, such as Inouye, say they amount to less than 1 percent of the federal budget and serve as a way for Congress to direct funds to needed projects.

Taxpayers for Common Sense notes that Inouye’s Senate Defense Appropriations subcommittee has grabbed 60 percent of the $2.7 billion in earmarks in their version of the 2010 defense bill, which is expected to pass Congress before Christmas.

The taxpayer organization adds that companies that gave money to senators got more earmarks than companies that did not give.

“While contributor companies only represented 25 percent of the total requests, they got 56 percent of the earmark totals,” Taxpayers for Common Sense noted on its web page.

Inouye said there was nothing improper about his earmarks or donations.

“My work is motivated by the immediate needs of my fellow Hawaii residents and to position Hawaii to thrive,” Inouye said.

Rep. Neil Abercrombie, who is expected to announce today that he will resign from Congress to run for governor, was also singled out for giving an earmark to a firm whose vice president was a campaign supporter.

CBS News featured Abercrombie in a piece on earmarks last month. The Hawaii Democrat had steered $3.5 million in earmarks to Pacific Biodiesel for a demonstration project growing plants on military land that could be turned into diesel fuel.

Kelly King, co-founder of the Kahului-based firm, was named one of four honorary co-chairs of Abercrombie’s campaign for governor. She said she had requested the earmark to help her company before she was named a co-chair.

“We were getting frustrated with the lack of access we were getting to federal grants and projects,” King said in an interview last week.

She said her company had requested interviews with all four members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation, but only Abercrombie and Rep. Mazie Hirono talked to her in person, and Abercrombie said her project was the sort of thing that the military in Hawaii should work on.

“From what I know of Neil Abercrombie, I would have been supporting him anyway,” King, a former member of the state Board of Education, said. King has personally donated $1,500 to Abercrombie campaign, but she said her firm had never contributed to Abercrombie.

Laurie Au, a spokeswoman for Abercrombie’s campaign for governor, said the congressman keeps his campaign and congressional activities separate.

“As long as earmarks are a tool to advance state and national interests, Congressman Abercrombie will continue to evaluate them on their merits and secure funding for worthy projects in Hawaii, whether for education, clean energy, health care, the environment, or developing high tech industries,” Au said.

According to a study done with Taxpayers for Common Sense and the Center for Responsive Politics, Abercrombie sponsored or co-sponsored 41 earmarks totaling $165,034,800 in fiscal year 2009 ranking second out of 435 representatives.

Dave Levinthal, communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics, noted that every contribution from a client that won an earmark would have to be analyzed before saying the contribution was meant to influence an earmark.

Records for each member of Hawaii’s delegation were not available for every year. Hirono, for instance, requested 71 earmarks totaling $162 million in 2009, but most of her earmarks are in conjunction with requests from other members of Congress.

Hirono received $12,400 in contributions from firms for whom she helped win earmarked federal money in fiscal 2008-09.

Sen. Dan Akaka shows $2,000 in contributions and earmarks of $2.4 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, but the figures are incomplete and only show 2008.

“King of Pork”

May 31, 2009 

May 31, 2009

In Battle to Cut Billions, a Spotlight on One Man


WASHINGTON – Near the end of a two-hour hearing on a special war-spending bill this month, Senator Daniel K. Inouye, in his slow and rumbling voice, finally said the words that defense lobbyists across Washington had been hoping to hear: there was “good reason to be optimistic.”

Mr. Inouye, Democrat of Hawaii, was answering a fellow senator’s question about the future of Boeing’s mammoth C-17 cargo plane. But from Mr. Inouye, the taciturn new chairman of the Appropriations Committee, the comment was also the latest reminder that, as the Obama administration lifts its ax over hundreds of billions of dollars in military contracts that the Pentagon says it no longer needs, he is the industry’s last line of defense.

Mr. Inouye is best positioned to fulfill or frustrate the administration’s hopes of reining in runaway procurement costs. That makes him the object of intense courtship from industry executives, senators and even a certain Hawaiian in the White House.

“In the Senate, the buck stops with Chairman Inouye,” said David Morrison, a lobbyist for Boeing and a former aide to Mr. Inouye, the company with the most at stake in the proposed cuts.

Critics, though, say Mr. Inouye – a self-described “king of pork” responsible for nearly a billion dollars in earmarks each year – is also the most potent remaining champion of the parochialism that for decades has made major military projects hard to kill.

“There is no question a lot of this stuff is going to get put back by Congress,” said Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma. “And the question is, why? Do we need more C-17s, or are we trying to keep people employed on a weapons system that we already have enough of?” Now, Mr. Coburn said, “We’ll see what the priorities are.”

Mr. Inouye is the last of a vanishing breed of powerful old-school appropriators. His predecessor as appropriations chairman, Senator Robert C. Byrd, 91, Democrat of West Virginia, is enfeebled by age. Another former chairman, Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican whom Mr. Inouye called “brother,” lost re-election last year amid ethics charges.

And in the House, Representative John P. Murtha of Pennsylvania, the top Democrat on the defense appropriations subcommittee, is under a cloud because of federal investigations into lobbyists, contractors and other lawmakers with ties to his office.

“Inouye is the last of the old bulls,” said Steve Ellis of the nonpartisan Taxpayers for Common Sense, which tracks Congressional spending. “The others have been gored.”

In an interview, Mr. Inouye said he seeks only the country’s security and its soldiers’ safety as he reviews the budget presented by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. “If we agree with the secretary, we go along,” Mr. Inouye said. “And if we don’t, we act accordingly.”

But he also hinted of conflict ahead when he takes up the main defense budget. “You’ll see some interesting activity when the big bill comes up,” he chuckled.

Elected to Congress in 1959, two years before President Obama was born, Mr. Inouye is known as a war hero and civil rights icon. While other Japanese-Americans were in internment camps, he lost his arm leading an Army unit of Japanese-Americans in World War II.

Honoring that legacy is one of many pet causes to which he has doled out federal money, including in one case to a group he helps oversee. In 2000 he inserted into the annual defense bill $20 million for a project dedicated to the sacrifices of soldiers like himself at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, where he was longtime chairman of the board of governors.

He capitalized on his official power to help finance the project in other ways as well. He helped draw donations from military contractors with big interests before his committee. Boeing recently pledged $100,000 a year for five years, a museum spokesman said. (Mr. Inouye, 84, whose first wife died three years ago, also married the museum’s then-president, Irene Hirano, 60, last year.)

Mr. Inouye has other close ties to lobbyists. His son, Daniel K. Inouye Jr., once the leader of a punk rock band, is a lobbyist for several entertainment and communications companies that lobby the senator intensely because he sits on the commerce committee. (Mr. Inouye’s son says he lobbies only the House.)

Mr. Inouye has rescued military contractors before, most notably when the Clinton administration tried to cut procurement. When the Pentagon balked at buying early C-17s – the plane it again wants to stop buying – Boeing hired a lobbyist close to Mr. Inouye: Henry Giugni, a former Honolulu police officer who had become Mr. Inouye’s closest aide and then, with his help, the Senate’s sergeant-at-arms.

A month later, Mr. Inouye, then chairman of the military spending panel, wrote to the defense secretary urging the acquisition of more C-17s, and production continued for 15 more years. Now, the pressure from all sides is far more intense. The president has repeatedly called the senator, aides say, to talk about priorities like passing the war-spending bill quickly – meaning without adding any big equipment programs.

“He calls me Dan,’ ” Mr. Inouye said. “I call him Mr. President.’ ”

Scores of defense industry lobbyists, meanwhile, are reminding Mr. Inouye of his past support for threatened programs, including the missile defense system, partly based in Hawaii, or the Army’s “future combat systems,” a pet project of his friend and fellow Japanese-American from Hawaii, Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, now the veterans affairs secretary.

As Mr. Inouye prepared for the Senate defense budget and a House-Senate conference on the war-spending bill, some of those lobbyists had a chance to speak to him at a fund-raiser this month for his political action committee at the home of the Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta, whose firm’s clients include Boeing, Lockheed Martin and United Technologies. (All three are among Mr. Inouye’s biggest sources of campaign money.)

Dozens of senators are also beseeching Mr. Inouye to save defense jobs in their states, including 19 who have signed a letter asking him to save Boeing’s C-17.

Many lobbyists took Mr. Inouye’s cryptic “reason to be optimistic” comment as a signal that he intended to include the eight C-17s from the House’s version of the war-spending bill when it goes to conference and may add the other eight sought by Boeing in the main defense bill. Supporters of Lockheed Martin’s F-22, a plane the Pentagon has tried for years to stop buying, took heart from Mr. Inouye’s omission of $147 million requested to shut down the production line, leaving it open while the company seeks new sales either to the United States or its allies, as Taxpayers for Common Sense reported.

Mr. Inouye has kept mum about what he may seek to insert in the 2010 military spending bill. But he acknowledged feeling the pressure. “People, whenever a lot of them see me, say, ‘Congratulations, you have got a great job, chairman of the biggest committee,’ ” he said. “I don’t have the time to explain to them that I spend less time sleeping.”