The latest Johnstown, PA flood--Federal cash

Wall Street Journal:

If John Murtha were a businessman, he'd be the biggest employer in this town.

The powerful U.S. congressman has used his clout on Capitol Hill to create thousands of jobs and steer billions of dollars in federal spending to help his hometown in western Pennsylvania recover from devastating floods and the flight of its steelmakers.

More is on the way. In the massive 2008 military-spending bill now before Congress -- which could go to a House-Senate conference as soon as Thursday -- Mr. Murtha has steered more taxpayer funds to his congressional district than any other member. The Democratic lawmaker is chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, which will oversee more than $459 billion in military spending this year.

Johnstown's good fortune has come at the expense of taxpayers everywhere else. Defense contractors have found that if they open an office here and hire the right lobbyist, they can get lucrative, no-bid contracts. Over the past decade, Concurrent Technologies Corp., a defense-research firm that employs 800 here, got hundreds of millions of dollars thanks to Rep. Murtha despite poor reviews by Pentagon auditors. The National Drug Intelligence Center, with 300 workers, got $509 million, though the White House has tried for years to shut it down as wasteful and unnecessary. Another beneficiary: MTS Technologies, run by a man who got his start some 40 years ago shining shoes at Mr. Murtha's Johnstown Minute Car Wash.

A review by The Wall Street Journal of dozens of such contracts funded by Mr. Murtha's committee shows that many weren't sought by the military or federal agencies they were intended to benefit. Some were inefficient or mismanaged, according to interviews, public records and previously unpublished Pentagon audits. One Murtha-backed firm, ProLogic Inc., is under federal investigation for allegedly diverting public funds to develop commercial software, people close to the case say. The company denies wrongdoing and is in line to get millions of dollars more in the pending defense bill.


Paired with prime contractor Lockheed Martin Corp., the DRS unit helped build more than 4,000 display terminals in the past decade, some costing as much as $240,000 each. A former Murtha staffer, Paul Magliocchetti, helped get the funding through Mr. Murtha's committee. He was paid $3.2 million by DRS over the period for his lobbying efforts, federal records show. Since 1989, Mr. Magliocchetti and executives of Lockheed and DRS have given more than $377,000 to Murtha campaign committees.

Mr. Magliocchetti, who has built a lobbying business winning Murtha earmarks for dozens of companies, won't discuss his work. "No comment," he says. "I'm just a former staffer." A spokesman for DRS, Richard Goldberg, also wouldn't comment on Mr. Murtha. "We have a world-class manufacturing facility in Johnstown, and a skilled, reliable work force," he said. A Murtha spokesman says the program has saved money for the Navy by using commercial, off-the-shelf components.

Military officers and agency officials sometimes gripe about congressional orders to spend money on projects they didn't ask for. But the Pentagon tends to go along with Congress to facilitate earmarks, keeping lawmakers happy and ensuring political support for other military programs. T. Michael Mosely, the Air Force chief of staff and a featured guest at this summer's Murtha breakfast, shrugs off the issue. Congressional earmarks for local projects have been in the military budget "for at least 200 years," he says.


There is much more. The FBI is investigating some of the earmark funding in the district. It would appear to be a target rich environment. They have also found some overlap with an investigation of West Virginia Congressman Alan Mollohan. There is something very wrong with an anti war puke like Murtha sucking off valuable defense dollars for questionable projects while denying funding to the troops who are doing the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. That should be considered a corrupt practice.


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