WASHINGTON Top U.S. Air Force officials sought to spend millions of dollars in counterterrorism funds on "comfort capsules" for military planes used by senior officers and civilian leaders, The Washington Post reported on Friday.
Over the past three years, the service asked to divert $16.2 million in counterterrorism funds to the project, but was twice rebuffed by Congress, the Post reported, citing internal e-mails and budget documents.
The newspaper cited an August 2007 letter to the Pentagon from Rep. John Murtha, a Pennsylvania Democrat, ordering that the money be spent on a "higher priority" need.
The Air Force nonetheless decided last year to take $331,000 from counterterrorism funds to cover a cost overrun in the program that began after the September 11 attacks, the Post said, citing officials it did not identify. A senior officer told the Post in reply to questions that the Air Force would reverse that decision.
Air Force officials said the government needed the new capsules to ensure leaders could talk, work and rest comfortably in the air, the report said.
An Air Force spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
According to the article, Air Force documents spell out how each of the pods is to be "aesthetically pleasing and furnished to reflect the rank of the senior leaders using the capsule," with beds, a couch, a table, a 37-inch flat-screen monitor with stereo speakers, and a full-length mirror.
Construction of what the Air Force initially called the Senior Leader Intransit Comfort Capsules, or SLICC, has begun under a contract paid from general Air Force funds and one of the 18-by-9-foot (5.5-by-2.7 meter) capsules has been partly completed, the Post reported.
The program has been downsized to three capsules from 10, plus four pallets fitted with swiveling leather chairs, known as Senior Leader Intransit Pallets, or SLIP, the newspaper said.
Due to the cutback, the program is now estimated to cost $7.6 million, the Post said.
(Reporting by JoAnne Allen; Editing by Peter Cooney)