"This event raises questions about the value and reliability of JLENS, which also failed to detect a gyrocopter as it approached, and eventually landed, on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol," they wrote.
Shortly after noon on Wednesday, the massive, unmanned blimp, nearly the length of a football field, broke lose from its tether at the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground, setting off mayhem and ridicule as it gently floated north into Pennsylvania.
The Air National Guard scrambled two F-16 fighter jets to track it. Social media exploded with stunning images of modern intelligence technology floating over Amish farm country. And cable news broadcast its slow parade as if it were a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade float on the lam.
The dangling tether from the runaway blimp tore through power lines, knocking out electricity to thousands, before the ballon crashed into rural Moreland Township, Pa. Officials said it most likely lost helium, which caused it to come back to Earth after a more than four-hour odyssey.
The event even made it into the Republican presidential debate Wednesday evening, when candidate Mike Huckabee called the blimp, known as an aerostat, a "bag of gas" and said it symbolized the failures of government.
"They couldn’t get rid of it because we had too much money invested in it," he said. "So we had to keep it.”
The system, manufactured by Raytheon, is on a three-year test run to see whether it can help detect cruise missiles or enemy aircraft from 10,000 feet above ground.
Like many highly technical defense programs, JLENS has suffered “cost increases and schedule delays due to setbacks in development,” according to the Government Accountability Office.
After facing problems, defense officials reviewed the program to “verify that design risks have been minimized,” the GAO said.
In their letter, Chaffetz and Cummings noted that the blimp disrupted flight patterns "and endangered people on the ground." And they demanded a trove of information, from contracts to documents relating to reliability and test results.
They said the documents would help the committee "understand whether JLENS is a worthwhile investment of taxpayer dollars."