Holding the Government Accountable

Would You Buy a Car Without Knowing the Sticker Price?

Original POGO graphic by Iulia Gheorghiu.

Would you buy a car without knowing the sticker price? How about a fleet of ultra-sophisticated military aircraft?

Didn't think so.

“There are only two phases of a program. The first is 'It's too early to tell.' The second: 'It's too late to stop,’” said veteran Pentagon reformer Ernie Fitzgerald.

Because of this, it is troubling that the Air Force is hiding the initial price of the new B-21 stealth bomber. Congressional auditors found that the cost of Pentagon weapon systems grew $469 billion beyond initial estimates. Given the complexity and cost risks inherent to this program, the public deserves to know the baseline contract price of the B-21 program so the Pentagon and the contractors can be held accountable for any cost overruns.

The Air Force has promised to deliver an effective and affordable bomber. But price estimates released by the Air Force for the program have ranged from $33.1 billion to $58.4 billion—an increase of $25 billion, or 76 percent. Publicly releasing the actual contact price is key to oversight of this program and of the rest of our planned nuclear modernization, which is currently projected to cost taxpayers $1 trillion.

The Air Force has resisted releasing the figure, claiming the contract price would allow potential adversaries to identify some of the new plane’s capabilities, like its range and how many weapons it can carry. The Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), has said this argument is “nonsense” since the program’s budget is unclassified and the Air Force has already released the per-unit cost, drawings of the new bomber, and a list of top-tier suppliers for the program.

In a closed-door 19-7 vote, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee eliminated the Chairman’s requirement to publicly disclose the cost. Tell Congress that you believe the American people need to know the contract price to hold those in charge accountable.

Tell Congress you want to know the price taxpayers will pay for the B-21 stealth bomber program. The only reason to keep the costs secret is to prevent oversight.

For more information on POGO’s work on the B-21 bomber see “Senators Vote to Keep Bomber Price Secret” and “B-21 Comes with a Stealth Final Price Tag.” You can follow all of our Pentagon spending work at the Straus Military Reform Project website.