Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton (D-Mo.) accused the Air Force yesterday of "gross deception" in hiding the full cost of an $800 million management system and termed one general's explanation of his role "the most disgraceful testimony I've ever heard in the Senate."
"Your motive was to deceive Congress from the beginning," Eagleton shouted at Air Force Maj. Gen. Robert L. Edge after the two-star general had finished testifying before the Senate Defense Appropriations subcommittee on Project Max, a computerized system for keeping track of aircraft repairs.
"Don't insult the intelligence of this committee, General," Egleton thundered in charging that Edge and other Air Force officers kept Project Max going in defense of the 1975 congressional order to stop it.
"Do you think we should sit here and give one-half an ounce of credibility to the garbage you have given to the committee?" Eagleton asked Edge as the Air Force chief of staff, Gen. David C. Jones, sat at the witness table with Edge.
Edge drew that and other fire from Eagleton after testifying that his handwritten notes the subcommittee has obtained do not document an intention to deceive Congress on Project Max. Instead, Edge said, they were "memory joggers" for a discussion with an Air Force subordinate.
In his notes, Edge, who is assistant chief of staff for Air Force computers, wrote such things as "I'm not overly concerned about 'unapproved' work" on Project Max and asked, "who rock the boat unnecessarily" by telling Congress about plans to buy IBM computers for the system.
He had put the word "unapproved" in quotes, Edge said, to denote that someone else believed the work on Project Max had not been approved. "I knew hhe work going on had been indeed approved by the Air Force secretary," Edge testified.
As for the reference about not rocking the boat, Edge said "I was not anxious to raise the red flag" about plans to buy IBM computers on a solesource basis "before we agreed within the Air Force" on how to proceed.
He called that view "a question of judgment," not an effort to deceive Congress.
After Edgleton finished attacking Edge for giving an explanation that "is so far from what these notes project," that it resembles former President Nixon's explanation of Watergate, Jones came to his deputy's defense.
Edge, said the Air Force chief of staff, has had "a long an honorable career. He's an honest man" who used some "ill-chosen" words in writing about Project Max but had no motive for deceiving Congress.
"I do want to give him the benefit of the doubt" in his explanations to Congress, Jones said. The Air Force leader added in an interview after the hearing that "I'm standing behind" Edge.
Edge, when asked if had any comment on Eagleton's characterization of his testimony, replies: "No. None."
Early in yesterday's Senate hearing Eagleton waved a cost chart at the five Air Force executives at the witness table and said it was "an intentional and gross distortion."
Some "fast figure artist" in the Air Force submitted a chart to the committee which showed the current plan for Project Max would cost $420 million instead of the original programs that ran from $731 million to $937 million, Eagleton said.
But in giving Congress the figure of $420 million, Eagleton said without any Air Force executive denying the assertion, the Air Force left out what already has been spent on the advanced logistic system, which included Max. The real cost of the currently planned system, Eagleton said, would be $847 million.