The omnibus spending bill approved by Congress and signed by President Reagan included an $852 million commercial shipbuilding program to be run by the Navy, in essence restoring a program that was eliminated by the administration in 1981.
The security portions of the omnibus spending measure, known as a continuing resolution, in many ways made it a classic "Christmas tree" bill. It was loaded with legislative goodies for such diverse groups as the coal industry, the drug-fighters, the Joint Committee on Printing, Alaska workers and members of the military command in that state.
By far the biggest new program was dubbed the "Maritime Fund" by House and Senate conferees. The money to finance construction and then chartering of commercial ships is to be derived from unspent Navy funds for shipbuilding projects going back to 1983.
As presented by the conferees, the fund looks much like an updated verison of the old Maritime Administration's construction subsidy program that was ended in 1981 in one of the first money-saving moves by the Reagan administration.
The "concept," according to the conferees' report, is "patterned after President Eisenhower's Mariner program to construct ships for commercial operation which may be used for military sealift."
The Navy would select the vessels to be built, the builder and the leaser. The service also would be authorized to sell the ships after five years, according to the conferees.
The program was unveiled in November before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation merchant marine subcommittee by its chairman, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). At the time, the measure was opposed by Everett Pyatt, assistant secretary of the Navy for shipbuilding and logistics, on grounds that there "already were a number of idle ship bottoms," a Navy spokesman said Friday.
Stevens was undeterred. As chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on defense, he also headed the Senate conferees on the defense part of the omnibus spending bill. He tacked his Mariner Fund proposal to that measure and it stuck. The president signed it on Dec. 19.
A spokesman for the Pentagon said the Defense Department "was aware" of the congressionally established fund, but officials "don't have anything more to say about it."
On the other hand, Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said yesterday he had "questions" about the fund and some of the other programs pushed through in the spending bill.
"I have some people looking into them," Aspin said.
He noted that his committee, along with the Senate Armed Services Committe, must send authorizing legislation through Congress before the Mariner Fund can go into operation.
Efforts to reach Stevens yesterday were unsuccessful.
Aspin said he also would review the nearly $300 million earmarked in the Pentagon portion of the spending bill to get the military more into the fight against drug smugglers.
The Air Force was given $35 million "to initiate the formation of a drug interdiction element or elements . . . ," the conferees said. The program would begin with configuration of one AC130 into a "pressurized drug surveillance aircraft" and establishing command and control for its use.
The Air Force, according to an armed services panel member, "is not happy using its forces to chase drug smugglers."
The conferees, however, wrote that they "strongly believe that the best balance of providing peacetime drug interdiction and building wartime combat capability is to purchase and configure the initial AC130-H30 special operations aircraft for both missions."
To back up its approach, the conferees directed the Air Force to have this aircraft delivered by Jan. 31, 1987, and "consider budgeting for an additional nine" aircraft in the coming two years.
In other drug-related actions, the conferees approved two transfers to the Customs Service for drug interdiction: $6 million to modify two P3A Navy patrol planes and $7.9 million for the purchase of two Army Blackhawk helicopters.
The bill also contains provisions to build up the Pentagon's use of coal. In a major tradeoff, the conferees agreed to a changeover in heating facilities in West Germany, but "only with the understanding" that the Defense Department would immediately begin to convert steam plants to coal-fired plants in the continental United States.
The measure also directed the Pentagon to use $25 million from the Army Industrial Fund to initiate the conversion program.
The report established a "coal consumption target of 1.6 million short tons of coal per year above current consumption levels at Defense Department facilities in the U.S. by 1994." It even directed that "anthracite or bituminous coals shall be the source of energy at such installations" and required the Pentagon to purchase 302,000 short tons of anthracite each year even though that meant "immediate stockpiling" to maintain that level.
Congressional aides yesterday could not identify the legislators who pushed the coal program.
The bill also contains $300 million for "Coastal Defense Augmentation," another congressionally inspired program in which the Navy buys equipment that is turned over to the Coast Guard. It, however, "would be available to carry out missions determined by the Navy to be necessary in the event of hostilities," according to the conferees' report.
To be purchased, according to the report, are 16 110-foot patrol boats, four C130 aircraft and one icebreaking tug.
One amendment was linked by House sources to the Joint Committee on Printing. It denied the Air Force funds to install a large, web press that had been purchased for Gunter Air Force Station, Ala., where it was to be used to print study materials for the Air University nearby.
According to congressional aides, the measure was put forward by Sen. Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, on behalf of the Joint Printing Committee, which believed the work should be contracted out rather than done by the Air Force.
The conferees required the Air Force to report by Feb. 1 "on how it will dispose of the printing press."
Two other bill provisions deal with Stevens' home state.
The first does not mention Alaska. Instead, it requires the Defense Department during 1986 to have a provision requiring contractors working in "a state" to employ that state's residents for such work in "a state which is not contiguous with another state and has an unemployment rate in excess of the national average." That description fits Alaska, and the conferees mention Alaska in their report.
Another concern of Stevens, Pentagon restructuring of military headquarters without congressional approval, is handled more directly.
"None of the funds made available by this act," the bill said, "may be used to alter the command structure for military forces in Alaska."