Navy Secretary H. Lawrence Garrett III, apparently seeking a final review of all options, got a one-day extension Friday on his deadline to recommend whether to scrap the troubled A-12 attack plane program.
Just hours before Garrett was to deliver his recommendation in a report to Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, the Pentagon boss agreed to let him turn it in Saturday instead during a face-to-face meeting.A Defense Department source said Garrett was still expected to urge Cheney to proceed with the program by absorbing some of the contractors' cost overruns and by buying fewer aircraft over a longer period.
But the source said Garrett apparently wanted to make one last review of his options "so everyone knows it is his decision."
"I'm not sure how to read this," the source said. "I still believe he will recommend to proceed. But at this point, I guess nothing is in concrete."
Cheney on Dec. 14 threatened to kill the program unless the Navy could prove that the all-weather, long-range Avenger bomber is worth buying. He ordered Garrett to present him a recommendation by Friday, Jan. 4.
Since then, Navy officials have held a series of meetings with the contractors, McDonnell Douglas Corp. and General Dynamics Corp., and drafted a plan that sources said would amount to a partial government bailout.
McDonnell Douglas and General Dynamics have threatened to lay off about 8,000 workers in St. Louis and Fort Worth, Texas, if the program is canceled.
If the plan is accepted, it could be one of the biggest corporate bailouts in recent years and may well become a precedent for other contractors seeking relief from fixed-cost contracts hit with unanticipated development expenses.
If the project is canceled, it would be the largest weapons system ever eliminated by the Defense Department.