Cheney Memo Clouds A-12's Future

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IN a highly critical memo Defense Secretary Richard Cheney has put the Navy on notice to prove the worth of the $50 billion A-12 Avenger aircraft. In the memo sent Friday to Navy Secretary Lawrence Garrett, Mr. Cheney wrote that the ``A-12 program is in serious trouble. The apparent schedule slippage, cost growth, and management deficiencies in this program are intolerable.... I direct you to show cause by Jan. 4, 1991, why the department should not terminate the A-12 program and pursue other alternatives.''

Cheney told Congress in April that development of the carrier-based attack plane was on time and within budget, but was embarrassed later when contractors said it was $1 billion over budget and more than a year behind schedule.

The controversy, which was detailed in a Defense Department report released last month, has led to the resignation of the fourth-highest-ranking Pentagon official, and has resulted in the firing of one senior Navy officer and the censure and reassignment of two others.

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Rep. John Conyers (D) of Michigan, chairman of House Government Operations Committee and one of most vocal defense contracting critics on Capitol Hill, applauded Cheney's move, but said problems with the A-12 were merely ``the tip of the iceberg.''

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