Despite protests by the Defense Department, President Clinton told senior defense officials Tuesday that they should not attempt to circumvent a congressional decision to spend $493 million on the B-2 bomber program.
The decision represents another victory for Northrop Grumman's effort to win more B-2 orders, though Clinton made no final decision on whether to ask Congress for funding to build more than the 20 B-2s now on order, an administration official said.
After Congress appropriated the $493 million and authorized an increase in B-2 production late last year, top Pentagon officials unleashed an attack on the funding.
The Pentagon had considered, for example, seeking approval to switch the B-2 funding to an account that would help pay for operations in Bosnia. Military officials had also considered simply not spending the money, concerned that it would ultimately force them into buying more B-2s than they could afford.
As recently as this week, top defense officials have acknowledged in news conferences that they have a disagreement with Congress and their own administration over the B-2 issue, adding that they are standing firm on their decision against the bomber.
Clinton, however, has made it clear that he is willing to compromise with Congress on the issue, particularly after senior Democratic leaders sided with their Republican counterparts in supporting the B-2.
Clinton asked for a study by the National Security Council, which completed its review and gave him a series of options on whether the Pentagon should spend the $493 million already appropriated and whether to support more production.
The recommendations of future production were not made public, but congressional and defense industry sources said they clearly give Clinton the flexibility to order more B-2s. Clinton already appeared headed toward such a decision.