General Dynamics Corp. billed U.S. taxpayers for more than $4.5 million in "public relations" expenses in 1982, raising the potential cost of weapons systems with items ranging from lobbying to gifts of Frederick Remington artwork, according to Pentagon auditors.
General Dynamics' billings were among $15.7 million in public relations charges in 1982 submitted by 28 defense contractors and challenged by the Defense Contract Audit Agency. Pentagon officials said yesterday that they will submit the bills to defense contract authorities for review before deciding whether to pay them.
The auditors' report questioned defense contractors' billings for such items as country club dues, social outings, political contributions, charity donations, advertising "giveaways," film presentations and travel to the Paris Air Show.
Defense Department regulations permit contractors to charge the government for certain overhead costs, including public relations. But auditors and congressional critics complain that the regulations fail to define allowable public relations charges or to require companies to identify them clearly.
According to Pentagon auditors, the government pays contractors at least $140 million yearly to cover public relations activities.
Rep. Fortney H. (Pete) Stark Jr. (D-Calif.), who released the auditors' report, said payments for such contractor expenses as newspaper advertising and gifts of plastic desk models take away funds from weapons production.
"Should our tax dollars be buying a plastic-and-paper military or one made of steel and titanium?" he asked in a prepared statement.
On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger ordered the Pentagon to review defense contractors' billing procedures while freezing for at least 30 days all overhead payments to General Dynamics, which has been accused of charging the government for boarding an executive's dog, club dues and golfing weekends.
The audit report released by Stark focuses on General Dynamics' "public relations" charges for 1982 at five of its divisions.
Charges at the Fort Worth division, where the F16 jet fighter is assembled, totaled $2.1 million, including $330,983 for promotional giveaways, according to auditors. Among the gifts listed by auditors were 18 pieces of artwork by Frederick Remington, famous for his illustrations of the Wild West; 16 pieces of art by C.M. Russell; 30 bronzes; 200 special branding knives; 10,000 F16 tie tacks; 20 dozen hats with F16XL logo, and 2,136 F16 necklaces in gift boxes.
General Dynamics' corporate headquarters in St. Louis submitted bills for $1.57 million in public relations expenses. According to auditors, the charges included $35,875 for lobbying. Most of the other costs covered advertising.
At the company's Convair Division, $577,531 was billed for dinner parties, souvenirs, caps and golf shirts, auditors reported.
Other large bills questioned by auditors included $3.9 million claimed by Rockwell International for such items as country club dues, school contributions and advertising giveaways of coasters and pen sets.
United Technologies Corp. claimed $1.5 million for such items as film presentations, a donation to the Connecticut Special Olympics and entertaining of Swiss and German "representatives." The firm also billed for $6,239 to cover its contribution to an unnamed political action committee