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Temporary funding prevents shutdown, but hurts military, officials say

Published: Saturday, December 23, 2017 @ 6:00 AM


            Wright-Patterson Air Force Base employees are among those affected by Congress when legislators continue to pass temporary funding measures, local experts say. STAFF
            STAFF/File
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base employees are among those affected by Congress when legislators continue to pass temporary funding measures, local experts say. STAFF(STAFF/File)

For the third time since September, Congress temporarily agreed to a stopgap funding measure to avoid a partial federal government shutdown at midnight Friday that would have impacted thousands of civilian workers at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

But the temporary spending measures have hamstrung the Defense Department through lost training of troops — impacting readiness for war — and cost more for renegotiated contracts, officials said.

The latest deadline gives Congress until Jan. 19 to reach a defense appropriations budget or face the prospect of a partial shutdown, which last occurred in 2013.

Congress has authorized a $700 billion defense bill, but has not yet passed legislation to fund it. The bill would lift spending reductions, called sequestration, imposed under the Budget Control Act of 2011.

RELATED: Lack of defense budget raising concerns at Wright-Patterson

Both the House and the Senate were able to send a bill late Thursday to President Donald Trump temporarily funding the government, but the Senate decided to kick an $81 billion bill to pay for disaster relief to next year. The House approved that relief earlier Thursday.

The overall spending bill included a $2.85 billion down payment aimed at keeping the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program running as well as reauthorizing federal surveillance powers.

‘Waste money’

The stopgap spending deals, known as continuing resolutions that cap spending at the prior fiscal year’s level, create unpredictability and uncertainty and waste money until a final defense budget is funded, analysts said.

“Continuing resolutions waste money because spending plans cannot be matched to needs in a timely fashion,” said Loren B. Thompson, a senior analyst with Virginia-based Lexington Institute and a defense industry consultant.

“It’s an abdication of congressional responsibility to provide the armed forces with adequate time to plan to spend its fund as smartly as possible,” Mark Thompson, a national security analyst with the Project On Government Oversight in Washington, D.C., said in an email. “Lord knows, the Pentagon needs all the help it can get in doing that, and Congress isn’t helping.”

RELATED: General: Spending needed if you want to hire; fly B-52s until 2040

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, said the ongoing stopgap measures have a “devastating” effect on the military. Turner, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, voted for the latest extension to avoid a shutdown, but hopes it will provide time to negotiate a two-year defense budget deal and set aside sequestration through 2020.

The Dayton congressman advocates moving the start of the budget year, which begins Oct. 1, to match the calendar year.

“Congress is always going to get its work done at the end of the year, which is always going to leave our military at a disadvantage,” he said in an interview. “…We can by law just change (the start of the fiscal year) and suddenly end this agonizing four- or five-month continuing resolution that affects the military more difficultly.”

CR as the norm

Since fiscal year 2010, continuing resolutions have lasted an average of 128 days, according to an analysis by the Center for Strategic and International Security. Of those, the longest was 217 days in the 2017 fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, followed by 197 days in 2011 and 177 in 2013, the center reported.

The military has warned congressional leaders of consequences to training, readiness and modernization, particularly after 90 days or longer without a fully funded defense budget.

“Long-term CRs impact the readiness of our forces and their equipment at a time when security threats are extraordinarily high,” Secretary of Defense James Mattis wrote in September to the Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain. “The longer the CR, the greater the consequences for our force.”

Among other impacts, the six-page letter cited lost or reduced training and canceled exercises; curbs on federal hiring and recruitment; impeding the Air Force’s ability to produce aviators; paying more money to rebid or renegotiate contracts; and hampering the “recovery of readiness” which “may prove fatal in a future conflict with major power adversaries.”

The lack of a defense budget and ongoing continuing resolutions have caused uncertainty at Wright-Patterson, Col. Bradley McDonald, installation commander, said in November.

“Every time we come to the latter part of one of these time lines, it causes part of our workforce to feel concerned, so we would hope to avoid that,” he said in an interview.

“This also hurts contractors who were planning on working on projects at Wright-Patterson,” said Michael Gessel, Dayton Development Coalition vice president of federal programs. “The continuing resolution creates a delay in maintenance and training and adds to administrative burdens.”

He added: “Congress’ failure in passing a spending bill has a cumulative effect on morale and creates a sense that it doesn’t give the Defense Department sufficient priority.”

RELATED: Congress passes stopgap spending bill to avert weekend shutdown

33 out of 42 years

The military has started the year under a continuing resolution 33 out of the past 42 years, a CSIS analysis found. CSIS also reported the Trump administration’s delivery of a proposed fiscal year 2018 budget on May 23 was the latest the White House has submitted one to Congress since the 1920s.

“Congress has not completed a federal budget in time for the start of the new fiscal years in the last 20 years,” Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute said in an email. “The last time was 1997. The implication is that there is a structural deficit in the functioning of the government which needs to be fixed.”

Wright Patt’s Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine marks 100th

Published: Friday, January 19, 2018 @ 5:30 AM

Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine reaches its Centennial year

Filled with life-like medical mannequins, dark cargo plane fuselages and a centrifuge that spins humans in circles at high speed, the Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine is unlike most schools.

One of the biggest prizes gained at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in recent years, the school marked its 100th anniversary in ceremonies Friday.

The $194.5 million school opened in a sprawling new building at Wright-Patterson in 2011 after eight decades in Texas. The move was part of a base realignment and closure process in 2005 that brought about 1,200 jobs to Wright-Patterson. Most of those were in aerospace medicine and sensors research from sites in Texas, Arizona, Florida, Massachusetts and New York.

RELATED: On the cutting edge: Wright-Patterson marks a century of innovation in 2017

“We’ve been training flight surgeons for 100 years,” said Col. Alden Hilton, the school’s commander. Today, it also educates flight nurses, enlisted aeromedical technicians, and critical care medical teams, among others.

“These medical personnel are already experienced clinicians,” Hilton said. “But it’s very different to practice medicine in the back of an airplane where it’s dark, very, very noisy and vibration and other movements and what you have with you is all that you’ve got.”

The massive school traces its origins to Hazelhurst Field, N.Y., where it opened as the Medical Research Laboratory of the Air Service in 1918 in the infancy of Army aviation.

RELATED: Stealth bombers, UFO rumors, test pilots among Wright Patterson’s past 100 years

A faculty and staff of about 950 train 4,000 students a year at Wright-Patterson. The school trains airmen in aeromedical evacuations of wounded troops from combat zones to hospitals, has an epidemiology and environmental lab to analyze samples from bases around the world, and researches how to improve human performance with technology as part of the mission of the 711th Human Performance Wing.

Wright-Patterson marked it’s 100th anniversary in 2017.

The base traces its lineage to Dayton’s former McCook Field, an Army airplane engineering research center, Wilbur Wright Field, which prepared airmen for military aviation careers, and the Fairfield Aviation General Support Depot.

Threat of government shutdown wearing on workers

Published: Friday, January 19, 2018 @ 5:00 AM

What You Need to Know: Government Shutdown

The specter of a partial federal government shutdown looms at midnight Friday, but many federal employees feel “immune” to the threat of being sent home in a repeated cycle of last-minute stopgap spending measures to avert a shutdown, union leaders say.

“I think employees are actually getting immune to it,” said Troy Tingey, president of the American Federal of Government Employees Council 214, which represents several thousand employees at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

But many also have lost patience.

“A lot of them are starting to look for other career fields in the private sector,” he said in a telephone interview Thursday from Hill Air Force Base, Utah. “They’ve had about enough of this.” And some are rethinking who should represent them in Congress, he added.

Congressional leaders are faced with the prospect for the fourth time since September voting for a short-term spending measure – called a continuing resolution – to avoid a government shutdown through mid-February. The consequences of a shutdown would likely furlough thousands of civil service workers at Wright-Patterson, as it did in 2013.

The House passed a stopgap spending measure in a 230-to 197-vote late Thursday. The bill now heads to the Senate where its fate was uncertain Friday.

RELATED: What if a government shutdown happened? Five things to know 

President Donald Trump injected confusion by tweeting Thursday that a children’s health care program should not be part of a short-term budget agreement. The White House quickly said Trump indeed supports the House GOP measure, which would extend the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, for six years and keep the government’s doors open through Feb. 16.

Waiting for word

Although a base spokesperson said Wright-Patterson has not received instructions to prepare for a shutdown, the last time a closure happened some civil service employees, such as police, fire, and medical workers, or those who were involved with the protection of life and property, were exempt. Military personnel stayed on the job.

Even so, when they report to work, they would likely not be paid until a funding deal was reached, two Wright-Patterson firefighter union leaders said.

RELATED: Fears grow as shutdown deadline nears

“There is some stresses for some of our guys because they aren’t sure what’s going to happen,” said Brian Grubb, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local F88 at Wright-Patterson.

“I think for some of the newer employees that haven’t had to navigate this or just not knowing how long this potential shutdown could be …. there’s that uncertainty,” said Steven E. McKee, Local F88 secretary-treasurer and a firefighter.

“I can’t imagine a Google, Facebook or Ford Motor co. … running as inefficiently,” McKee said, adding “it’s a huge impediment, a hindrance and it’s not right. It’s not fair to either the federal worker and or the citizen.”

Tingey said many members have lost confidence in Congress and the White House.

“When we get out there and we talk to (employees), they just have lost all confidence and respect in not only in (the) House and Senate, but in the administration as a whole,” he said.

RELATED: Will a shutdown happen? Wright Patt in a holding pattern

Congressional vote

U.S. Reps. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, and Brad Wenstrup, R-Cincinnati, both members of the House Armed Services Committee, indicated Thursday they would vote for stopgap funding to keep the government open.

“We’re in the sad position of having to vote for another continuing resolution which shortchanges our military and our men and women in uniform,” said Turner, who has Wright-Patterson in his congressional district. “I believe that will pass the House … and then the Senate will be in a position to on a short-term basis continuing funding the government.

“The Senate has to stop holding the budget deal hostage,” Turner added. “They refuse to negotiate and discuss the budget deal until immigration is resolved and the government hasn’t been funded since the end of September. These are unrelated issues. They need to proceed in a decoupled fashion and it’s doing real damage to our military that Senate Democrat leadership continues to take that stand.”

RELATED: Lack of a defense budget raises concerns at Wright-Patterson

Democrats are demanding a deal on legislation to offer protection from deportation to younger immigrants who were brought to the country as children and now are here illegally as a prerequisite for any longer-term government funding agreement. They say the four-week duration of the House continuing resolution is too long and would take the pressure off of immigration negotiations.

“We can’t keep careening from short-term CR to short-term CR. If this bill passes, there’ll be no incentive to negotiate and we’ll be right back here in a month with the same problems at our feet,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.“Eventually, we need to make progress on the biggest issues before us.”

Wenstrup said lawmakers were “diligently” trying to prevent a shutdown.

“I think we’ll get there, but I’ve been wrong before,” he said.

RELATED: Temporary funding prevents shutdown, but hurts military, officials say

Funding the military is the highest priority with the threats the United States faces around the world, he said.

“Although a CR likely will not have what we want in terms of funding our military fully, a CR is probably our least bad option and closing down the government is an even worse option,” said Wenstrup, who added a shutdown would mean training for National Guard and reserve troops would stop.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, has not indicate how he will vote on a short-term funding measure. He is waiting to see what is in the legislation before making a decision, his office said Thursday.

“There is no reason for a government shutdown,” the senator said in a statement. “Congress needs to come together and do its job.”

A spokeswoman for Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said Portman would vote yes on a short-term spending resolution.

“Rob believes both parties have a responsibility to keep the government funded and ensure safety and stability for all Americans, especially those serving in our armed forces,” spokeswoman Emily Benavides said in an email. “He will certainly vote to keep the government open.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Follow the daytondailynews.com and mydaytondailynews.com for the latest news on a potential government shutdown Friday.

First exercise of new year set at Wright Patt

Published: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 @ 11:51 AM


            Wright-Patterson Air Force Base CONTRIBUTED
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base CONTRIBUTED

Wright-Patterson will launch its first base-wide exercise of 2018 between Jan. 29 to Feb.5, authorities say.

RELATED: Will a shutdown happen? Wright-Patt in holding pattern

Base personnel and visitors may be delayed getting through or out of gateways at times during the security exercise, officials said.

RELATED: Ohio fighter jet unit heads to Baltic region

Communities outside the base may see more emergency vehicles and hear sirens or base-wide announcements during the exercise, officials said.

Fears grow as shutdown deadline nears

Published: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 @ 5:00 AM


            This Jan. 3, 2018, file photo shows the Capitol in Washington. The government is financed through Friday, Jan. 19, and another temporary spending bill is needed to prevent a partial government shutdown after that. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
            J. Scott Applewhite
This Jan. 3, 2018, file photo shows the Capitol in Washington. The government is financed through Friday, Jan. 19, and another temporary spending bill is needed to prevent a partial government shutdown after that. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)(J. Scott Applewhite)

President Donald Trump and Congress appear to be careening toward a partial shutdown of the federal government, though lawmakers expressed some hope Tuesday they can at least approve a temporary spending bill that would keep the government running beyond the Friday deadline.

It’s far from a sure bet, though, and there are growing fears the government will partly close for the first time since a two-week shutdown in 2013. Thousands of civilian employees at Wright-Patterson Air Force were furloughed during those two weeks as the federal installation went into partial shutdown mode.

Wright-Patterson is the largest single-site employer in Ohio with more than 27,000 employees — the vast majority of whom are civilians — and touts a regional economic impact greater than $4 billion.

RELATED: Temporary funding prevents shutdown but hurts military, officials say

Michael Gessel, vice president of the Dayton Development Coalition, said “it is increasingly difficult to predict what Congress will do and the predictions change almost on an hour-by-hour basis. There is similarly a very high level of uncertainty and we will not really know until the next few days what the chances are.”

“I know it grows tiresome to hear, but yes, the bickering and intransigence between the parties appears to be growing and making legislation more difficult,” Gessel added.

Prior to 2013, the most recent government shutdown was during a three-week period in 1995 and 1996.

Major fallout

The fallout from any shutdown damages national security, wastes money, and impacts employee morale, Gessel said.

Todd Harrison, director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, predicted Congress will approve another temporary spending bill.

But in an e-mail Tuesday, he warned that a “shutdown remains a real possibility,” adding that “Congress will eventually get to a budget deal, but it may take a few more weeks or months.”

RELATED: Lack of defense budget raising concerns at Wright-Patterson

The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, one of the state’s biggest tourist attractions, would close until a funding deal is reached, a spokesman has said.

Divided Congress

The two parties are squabbling over whether to increase defense spending, find money to build a wall or increase security along the Mexican border as demanded by Trump, and an insistence by Democrats that any spending measure provide legal guarantees for the children of undocumented immigrants, a program known as the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals, or DACA.

While there appears little appetite in the Senate to shut down the government, the House is deeply divided. With Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid shielded from potential reductions through a 2013 law aimed at controlling spending, lawmakers are arguing about how to spend roughly $1.1 trillion in what is known as discretionary spending — money Congress needs to appropriate every year.

A number of Republicans such as Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and Rep. Mike Turner of Dayton are demanding more than the $549 billion for defense than is permitted under 2018 federal spending year guidelines. In return, Democrats want to spend more on domestic programs than the $516 billion allowed in 2018.

RELATED: Ohio fighter jet unit heads to Baltic region

In a conference call with Ohio reporters Tuesday, Portman said in a private meeting last week with Senate Republicans, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis “painted a pretty dismal picture about our preparedness.”

“We do have a situation right now with more and more responsibilities overseas,” Portman said. “We have to have additional defense spending.”

Portman said he has talked to people at Wright-Patt who are concerned about a shutdown. “I think it is really important to figure out to move forward without a government shutdown,” he said.

No relationship building

Looming in the background is the concern about the impact a shutdown could have on this year’s congressional elections. With Trump’s popularity remaining around 40 percent in most polls, GOP analysts already fear they could lose the Senate and House in November.

Daniel R. Birdsong, a University of Dayton political science lecturer, predicted a shutdown is unlikely “because of the political question of who gets blamed for this.”

RELATED: State leaders tour Wright-Patterson as they explore how to protect bases

But Wright State University economics professor Evan Osborne said a shutdown is likely because he doesn’t expect Trump to budge on the “single most important” issue to his base: illegal immigration.

“He ran on ‘build the wall’” and curbing illegal immigration, Osborne said. “I don’t really see him giving on that.”

Adding to the unpredictability is the combativeness between Republicans and Democrats in Congress.

“There doesn’t seem to be a lot of relationship building between the Congress and the White House on big ticket items like immigration and tax reform,” Birdsong said.

In a sign that both parties are prepared to blame the other, Blaine Kelly, a spokesman for the Ohio Republican Party, took direct aim at Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, saying Brown “would be wise not to hold military funding hostage, but instead support a common sense compromise to keep the government open.”

RELATED: Air Force pilot shortage growing, top leaders say

For his part Brown, who is seeking re-election to a third term in November, said “there is no reason for a government shutdown. Congress needs to come together and do its job.”

‘We follow a very deliberative process’

Military leaders — including at Wright-Patterson — tend to decry temporary spending measures. They say they lower combat readiness, prevent the start of new programs, cap spending at last year’s levels and don’t eliminate reductions under the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Wright-Patterson spokesman Daryl Mayer said the base has not received guidelines on who would be exempt from a furlough.

“We follow a very deliberative process and guidelines to determine what services, if any, would be suspended during any government shutdown,” he wrote in an email.

The last time the base shut down, active-duty military personnel stayed on the job.

Among civilians, exemptions were made for personnel involved with the protection of life or property, such as police, fire, medical services and airfield operations.