Yesterday, the Project On Government Oversight sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates that raises questions about two little-known programs to build “world-class” luxury aircraft accommodations for the military and senior civilian leadership. The accommodations—called SLICC (Senior Leader In-transit Conference Capsule) and SLIP (Senior Leader In-transit Pallet)—were justified as filling a “deficiency gap,” but emails obtained by POGO show that there was significant internal dissent within the Air Force over this extravagant waste of taxpayers’ funds.
“As you well know, in a time of war, it is critical for senior officials to visibly prioritize the needs of the men and women on the frontline because it is the right thing to do and for reasons of morale,” said POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian in the letter. “Yet an egregious failure of leadership has come to our attention that involves breathtaking extravagance when every dollar needs to be wisely spent in a time of war.”
SLICCs are two connected chambers with first class amenities such as flat screen televisions and a couch on a pallet that can be loaded onto a C-17, KC-10, C-130 and KC-X aircraft. Requirements documents emphasize the need for “aesthetically pleasing” accommodations. Emails obtained by POGO state that Air Force generals upgraded the leather, carpet, and wood choices, adding hundreds of thousands of dollars to the program cost.
After the first SLIP was procured, General Robert McMahon expressed dissatisfaction with the color of the seat leather and type of wood used. He directed that the leather be reupholstered from brown to Air Force blue leather and to replace the wood originally used to cherry.
Meanwhile, the conventional seat pallets used to transport soldiers are in a deplorable state. The program to refurbish existing seats has not been given the same emphasis and oversight as SLICC and SLIP. Movement of new and refurbished seat pallets to the field has been extremely slow and convoluted.
Internal Air Force emails make it clear that the Air Force leadership’s overriding concern is SLICC’s level of luxury. “Gen [Robert H.] McMahon’s concern is so significant that we need assurance by the end of the week from AFRL [Air Force Research Laboratory] that the SLICC will be ‘World class’ inside,” states one e-mail obtained by POGO. “While we know the requirements document says ‘business class’, we all know there are levels of that.”
The first prototype SLICC has already been funded. The Air Force requested $16 million in the recently passed GWOT supplemental to fund the additional SLICCs, according to a June 2008 Air Force briefing on the program. The estimated cost of the first prototype SLICC is currently $2.735 million, up from an original November 2006 cost estimate of $1.743 million – reflecting a cost growth of 64 percent in less than two years.
A draft proposal for these accommodations tellingly states that these accommodations were even at one point called “Senior Leader In-Transit Comfort Capsules” (italics added). “Comfort” was dropped in favor of “Conference,” according to the track changes in a print out of the Word document.
The “world class” emphasis also resulted in the costly aesthetic redesign of the interior of an already existing system known as Steel Eagle. Even before the redesign, the capabilities document for the SLICC contains a detailed list of amenities required such as:
- “The wall mounted flat screen/flat panel monitor must have a diagonal measurement of at least 37 inches”;
- “A full length mirror”;
- “Aesthetically pleasing wall-to-wall carpeting”;
- “Aesthetically pleasing wall treatments/coverings”;
- “Aesthetically pleasing ceiling treatments/coverings”;
- “Internal illumination level will automatically adjust to ambient lighting levels”;
- “A single remote control unit which controls operation and all functions of the video playback devices as well as the wall mounted flat screen/flat panel monitor.”
Contract documents obtained by POGO reveal that these accommodations do not provide any additional operational capabilities (e.g. communications advantages) beyond those currently existing.