Taking Care of the Boys

April 07, 1995|By ROBERT SCHEER

LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles.

The pain of rejection must still be there, but imagine the relief felt by Lamar Alexander upon learning that he would receive $236,000 in compensation for losing his seat on the Martin

Marietta board of directors. Now he could look his family in the eye knowing that even if he doesn't win the Republican presidential nomination, there would be food on the table.

At a time when corporate re- engineering causes considerable worker hardship, it is reassuring to learn of the $92 million in compensation afforded 460 top executives laid off in the recent merger between Martin Marietta and Lockheed. One-third of the cost is to be paid by taxpayers. Those two defense contractors have demonstrated just how effective the private sector can be in utilizing government funds to protect innocent victims, like Mr. Alexander, from the traumas of corporate downsizing.

Mr. Alexander deserves a bonus because he no longer will be paid $50,000 a year for attending directors' meetings. Not what he could live on, I'll grant you, but the meetings occurred infrequently enough to permit more lucrative activities as well as a busy campaign schedule. Indeed, at one hastily called campaign news conference, just before a Martin Marietta board meeting, Mr. Alexander vowed to cut $250 billion from non-military federal spending. He has warned that any cuts in the military budget would be ''dangerous.''

A late bloomer in the military-industrial complex, Mr. Alexander, who began political life in the Nixon White House, joined the Martin Marietta board in 1989 and confessed at the time, ''I don't know much about national security.'' Evidently he proved to be a fast learner, because he was invited back on the corporate board after a brief stint as President Bush's education secretary.

The learning curve was not quite as steep for Melvin Laird, another Republican bonus baby abandoned in the defense contractors' merger. Mr. Laird, former secretary of defense, received $427,000 as a result of being laid off after 14 years as a Martin Marietta corporate director.

His bonus, however, was nothing compared to the $8.2 million for former Martin Marietta chairman Norman Augustine, who engineered the merger with Lockheed. He was further compensated for the inevitable travail that accompanies a merger by being named president of newly formed Lockheed Martin. But before some knee-jerk liberal out there jumps all over this tidbit, let the record show that Mr. Augustine has agreed to contribute $2.9 million of his bonus to a suitable tax-deductible .. charity. A regular point of light.

Nor is there any truth to the reports that the federal government picked up the entire $92 million cost of the defense contractors' bonuses. A Pentagon spokesman insisted that the government only paid directly for $31 million of the bonuses. Yes, the rest can be said to come from profits on taxpayer-financed defense contracts, but what else is new? The Defense Department has long allowed contractors to include lavish executive bonuses as legitimate costs paid for by the taxpayers.

True, the union complained that as many as 30,000 workers expected to be laid off at Lockheed Martin as a result of the merger are not covered by bonuses. ''Absolutely unconscionable,'' said the union's president. Well, if Lamar Alexander, who was famous as a right-to-work governor of Tennessee, had had his way, there wouldn't be unions.

The carping of the union president misses the whole point of compensation in a capitalist society. The top executives are up there because they know something ordinary workers don't, like how to vote themselves bonuses.

The important thing is that the merged company is in great shape and its stock has gone up. The defense business, which was going into the toilet before the Republicans captured Congress, is bouncing back. And no one is getting a bigger bounce than Lockheed.

The good news is that Newt Gingrich's revolution has saved the F-22 Stealth fighter plane, to be built mostly at the Lockheed plant in the Georgia congressman's back yard.

The $72 billion program was in trouble because of the untimely death of the Cold War. Nowadays, the U.S. government advises the Russians on how to maintain the nuclear weapons and radar systems that the Stealth fighter is designed to penetrate.

But Mr. Gingrich believes that the Cold War is not over until Lockheed says it is. ''I would rather rely on engineers than diplomats for security,'' he said in supporting a revival of the ''Star Wars'' defense system, another Lockheed boondoggle. No doubt he would have supported a big defense budget even if Lockheed and Martin Marietta had not donated more than $1 million a year to political candidates.

Robert Scheer, a journalist, wrote this commentary for the Los Angeles Times.

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