By Emelie Rutherford

The head of a naval panel in Congress said he wants officials working on the over-budget VH-71 presidential helicopter replacement program to justify its continuation on Capitol Hill.

House Armed Services Seapower and Expeditionary Forces subcommittee Chairman Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) said he has asked committee staff to arrange a hearing that would include representatives from Sikorsky [UTX], which made the current presidential helicopter, and the Lockheed Martin [LMT]- Bell Helicopter Textron [TXT]-AgustaWestland team building the replacement VH-71 aircraft.

"I want to give each of the vendors an opportunity to make their best case, and I think we absolutely have to revisit it, for all the same reasons we will revisit the LCS (Littoral Combat Ship program)," Taylor told Defense Daily. His panel also has planned a March 10 hearing on the Navy’s bumpy LCS effort.

"When a program is that late, that much over-budget, it’s our job to look in to what’s going on," the congressman said about VH-71. "If we can find a better value for the nation then we need to do so."

Just what type of information VH-71 officials could share in the near future remains to be seen, because the Navy now is reevaluating the program following a Nunn-McCurdy cost breach reported to Congress on Jan. 28.

Navy Secretary Donald Winter notified Congress last month the VH-71 program suffered a critical cost breach to the Program Acquisition Unit Cost (PAUC) in excess of 50 percent as compared to the original baseline estimate as of February 2006 (Defense Daily, Jan. 30). Under the Nunn-McCurdy law, to continue programs with cost growth of 25 percent or more, the Pentagon must restructure them and certify to Congress they are essential to national security, have no comparable but less-costly alternatives, and have reasonable and under-control cost estimates.

Asked about the possibility that VH-71 officials could say little about the program’s financial standing because of the Nunn-McCurdy review, Taylor said: "At the end of the day we all are responsible to the citizens as to being good stewards with their dollars, and if a program is this far over budget without being good stewards we need to change that."

The presidential-helicopter hearing had not been scheduled yet as of mid-day yesterday, when it wasn’t clear if the aircraft issue would be addressed by itself or folded into a hearing on a broader topic.

For the March 10 LCS hearing, the Seapower subcommittee has invited three Navy officials to testify: Vice Adm. Barry McCullough, deputy chief of naval operations for integration of capabilities and resources; Rear Adm. William Landay, program executive officer for ships, and Anne Sandel, program executive officer for littoral and mine warfare.