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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.

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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.”

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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.

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Air Force could have more say in Wright-Patterson hospital’s future under bill

Published: Thursday, May 24, 2018 @ 2:49 PM

Emergency room sign at Wright-Patterson Medical Center STAFF FILE PHOTO
Emergency room sign at Wright-Patterson Medical Center STAFF FILE PHOTO

An Ohio congressman has added an amendment to a defense policy bill that would give military services like the Air Force more of a say in the potential closure or cuts in services at medical facilities, a spokesman says.

U.S. Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Troy, added the amendment as part of the fiscal year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, which passed the House on Thursday in a 351-66 vote.

RELATED: Defense gets major increase, pay raise for troops

The amendment would require a description of the criteria used to close any military hospital or cut services, and allow input from the military branch.

The Defense Health Agency evaluates health services throughout the Department of Defense, including Wright-Patterson Medical Center, which in prior years was under pressure to increase the use of inpatient beds.

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Military base water safety questions remain as fight for study continues

Published: Tuesday, May 22, 2018 @ 5:29 PM
Updated: Wednesday, May 23, 2018 @ 3:30 PM


            Congressman Mike Turner
Congressman Mike Turner

A bipartisan group of congressional lawmakers have called on the U.S. EPA leader to release a chemical pollution study that reportedly shows lower threshold levels for groundwater contamination that could impact more than a hundred military bases, including Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, but the head of the agency said he doesn’t have the authority to release the study.

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, in his own letter this month, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers from California to Massachusetts in a separate letter, urged EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to release the study after Politico, citing newly released emails, reported the White House and the EPA had sought to block the public release of the U.S. Health and Human Services report because “it would cause a public relations nightmare.”

But in a response to Turner’s letter and the other congressional leaders, Pruitt wrote this week the Health and Human Services agency had the right to release the research findings, but “the EPA does not have the authority to release this study.”

Turner now has urged HHS Secretary Alex Azar to release the report.

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Chemical substances known as perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) have been found in the groundwater at Wright-Patterson and near a Dayton firefighting training site on McFadden Avenue. The material, commonly found in many household items, also was found in an old formula of firefighting foam sprayed at both sites.

Authorities say the water in the Dayton distribution system is safe to drink, and the substances have not been found in water delivered to consumers.

“Administrator Pruitt’s letter made it clear that the EPA is not currently blocking the release of the study on PFAS, although it did not indicate whether it had sought to block this release previously,” Turner said in a statement.

“The release of this study is a public health and safety issue for every community with a military installation, including mine,” Turner, whose district includes Wright-Patterson, wrote to Azar. The EPA has set a lifetime health advisory exposure level of 70 parts per trillion.

“If this study finds, as reported, that this is no longer an accurate level of safety for our water, Congress and our constituents need to know immediately so we can begin to address it,” Turner added.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said in a statement Wednesaday to this news outlet: “Keeping information from people about the health and safety of their water is disgraceful. The EPA and HHS must release this report immediately and work with the Air Force and the city of Dayton to ensure the water is safe.”

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said in a statement Wednesday: “(It’s) important to ensure EPA’s health advisories are up to date and reflect the best available science and information. The EPA and HHS should release this report immediately to ensure that the men and women serving our country, as well as our communities supporting them, are drinking clean, safe water.”

The EPA was part of a national leadership summit Tuesday that sought to address PFAS concerns around the nation. The federal agency reportedly barred some members of the press while Pruitt was speaking.

RELATED: Dayton faces two potential groundwater threats

In a May 18 letter, 13 House representatives on both sides of the political aisle from California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, and Washington state, had asked Pruitt to release the report. The lawmakers noted studies have linked the substances to cancer, thyroid disease, increased cholesterol, and fertility issues, among health concerns.

The group also sent a letter to Azar, according to U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Michigan, who was among those who co-signed the document.

“It’s a little hard for me that (Pruitt) won’t act to have the report released when he seems to have the authority to block the report,” he said Wednesday, referring to published reports. State policy makers especially could use the data to set contamination threshold levels, Kildee said.

“It ought to be out there,” he said. “We’ve seen this happen too many times.”

His district includes Flint, which has faced an ongoing drinking water crisis related to lead contamination.

The Department of Defense has identified 126 military installations that showed the chemical substances in excess of the EPA’s lifetime exposure advisory threshold where the firefighting foam was sprayed, lawmakers said.

The Health and Human Services study, known as the Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, “concluded that PFOS and PFOA can cause human harm at a much lower level of exposure than previously acknowledged by EPA,” the lawmakers said.

City of Dayton officials have urged Wright-Patterson to take more aggressive action to prevent tainted groundwater migrating off base and potentially threatening groundwater pumping wells along the Mad River. Base authorities say they have installed monitoring wells to track where a contamination plume is headed and have pointed to the city’s firefighting training site as a possible source of contamination.

As a precaution, the city of Dayton closed several production wells along the Mad River.

Wright-Patterson built a $2.7 million groundwater treatment plant to reopen two drinking water production wells that had been closed because they had exceeded health advisory levels.

Brown’s office said the senator will offer an amendment to an upcoming defense bill for the Air Force to reimburse the city of Dayton for costs incurred with dealing with tracking and dealing with the potential contamination.

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Remembering the fallen: Roll call event Wednesday at AF museum

Published: Tuesday, May 22, 2018 @ 1:00 PM


            Taps was played May 26, 2016, by bugler Tech. Sgt. Cheryl Przytula, Air Force Band of Flight, during the 2016 Roll Call Memorial Service in the outdoor Memorial Park at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. This year’s ceremony is at 9 a.m. May 23 and is open to the public. (U.S. Air Force photo/Ted Pitts)
Taps was played May 26, 2016, by bugler Tech. Sgt. Cheryl Przytula, Air Force Band of Flight, during the 2016 Roll Call Memorial Service in the outdoor Memorial Park at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. This year’s ceremony is at 9 a.m. May 23 and is open to the public. (U.S. Air Force photo/Ted Pitts)

An annual memorial roll call reciting the names of 2,800 fallen service members from the region is set for 9 a.m. Wednesday, May 23, in Memorial Park on the grounds of the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

Gold Star family member Catherine Beers-Conrad, an Air Force veteran whose father, Army Sgt. 1st Class Jack Beers, was killed in action in Vietnam, will speak at the ceremony.

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Gold Star family member Alejandron Villalva, who had a relative who died as a prisoner of war in Germany, will be a keynote speaker, organizers said.

The ceremony honors fallen service members since World War II in a 10-county region.

The 711th Human Performance Wing and 88th Air Base Wing will co-sponsor the public ceremony.

If inclement weather occurs, the gathering will take place at the Prairies Chapel and Religious Education Facility, 682 Chapel Lane.

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Services set for local 100-year-old who survived Pearl Harbor

Published: Tuesday, May 22, 2018 @ 5:30 AM


            Frank M. Ruby, who died last month at age 100, survived the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Ruby had awakened on a Navy fuel oil barge as the attack started. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
Frank M. Ruby, who died last month at age 100, survived the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Ruby had awakened on a Navy fuel oil barge as the attack started. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

Frank Ruby, a 100-year-old survivor of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor who died last month, will have a memorial service Friday, May 25, at the Memorial Hall in Dayton.

Ruby, a retired Navy chief petty officer, died April 29 at age 100.

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The Vandalia man spoke to this newspaper in 2016 about his surviving the massive Japanese aerial assault on the U.S. fleet that brought the United States into World War II.

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“The bombers were close to the water and I could see (pilots’) faces,” said Ruby, who was aboard an oil barge laden with tens of thousands of gallons of fuel. “I thought this is going to be my last day.”

Services are set for 6 p.m. Friday at Memorial Hall 125 E. First St., Dayton.

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