March 24, 2011 -- The Pentagon has issued a stop work order for a controversial second engine for a futuristic jet fighter, calling the engine, which has already cost billions, a "waste of taxpayer money" – but General Electric has vowed to press forward with development using its own funds.
The Joint Strike Fighter already has an engine, developed by Pratt-Whitney. In a statement, the Department of Defense cited its own opposition and opposition from President Obama as reasons to stop work on the alternate engine, which is being built at a GE plant outside Cincinnati. "In our view, it is a waste of taxpayer money that can be used to fund higher Departmental priorities and should be ended now."
The statement also cited the House of Representatives' recent vote to eliminate funding for the engine as a reason to halt work. "In light of these recent events, Congressional prerogatives, and the administration's view of the program, we have concluded that a stop work order is now the correct course," it said.
The stop work order is in effect for 90 days, "pending final resolution of the program."
In a statement posted on its corporate website, GE accused the Department of Defense of taking "unilateral action before Congress has completed its work on the fiscal year 2011 budget" and said, "we will not walk away from a $3 billion taxpayer investment."
"We are not deterred by this decision," said the statement. "We feel so strongly about this issue, as do our Congressional supporters, that we will, consistent with the stop work directive, self-fund the F136 program through this 90-day stop work period."
GE has taken a never-say-die approach to the engine. GE chairman Jeffrey Immelt wrote a note to aviation workers after the February House vote to stop funding that said, "GE will continue to press our case in the U.S. Senate and elsewhere."
General Electric has already shelled out millions in relentless pursuit of the engine contract, and its most recent vow to fight on is the latest evidence of the company's aggressive strategy for Washington influence. It is an approach that has helped GE become the nation's top corporate spender on lobbying, spending more than $238 million on lobbyists over the past 12 years, according to the Center for Responsive Politics -- money that has helped GE gain access to the corridors of power and some of the most remote crevices of the governing process.
"It shows what deep lobbying is all about in Washington," said Ellen Miller, a founder of the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, which monitors the influence industry. "It's lobbying members of Congress, it's being friendly to the administration, it's being all over the agencies."
GE's Arsenal of Angels in Congress
While the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Medical Association have spent more on lobbying over the past decade, GE sits high atop the list of corporate spenders. AT&T, the nearest competitor, spent $162 million, while Northrop Grumman and Exxon Mobil spent just over $150 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
ABC News requested an interview with Immelt to talk about the company's lobbying strategy for previous reports. Spokesman Rick Kennedy turned down that request, and did not respond to specific questions sent by email about the company's lobbying in general, and specifically about the effort to secure the lucrative jet engine contract. Last year, Kennedy told ABC News there was a reason Congress had agreed to fund the development of its engine for years, despite opposition from the Bush and Obama administrations.
"We have been reinstated year after year after year in the budget because the case for competition is simply too compelling for a program of this size," he said. "For this reason, we feel like we're standing on the side of the angels."
An ABC News review of General Electric lobbying found that the company has more than angels on its side -- it has an arsenal of former congressional leaders from both parties, including such well-known figures as former Sen. Trent Lott and former Rep. Dick Gephardt.
Last year, GE also hired Barack Obama's former campaign manager, David Plouffe, as a consultant, according to Plouffe's recently filed financial disclosure forms. It is unclear what Plouffe was hired to do, though his relationship with the president and senior White House staff is close to unparalleled. Plouffe is now back working as a senior advisor to Obama.
In late January, Immelt took on his own elevated role with the Obama administration, accepting an appointment as chairman of the president's new Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. The announcement came as Obama and Immelt toured a GE factory in New York state.