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Published: Tuesday, January 23, 2018 @ 4:02 PM
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — Wright-Patterson Air Force Base furloughed about 8,600 civil service employees during a short-lived federal government closure, the most at the state’s largest single-site employer since a shutdown last struck less than five years ago.
Federal employees who were furloughed or who worked during a three-day partial federal government closure Saturday through Monday will be paid under legislation Congress endorsed to end the standoff.
But many who left the job or were told to keep working during the shutdown harbor concerns it could happen once more when a short-term stopgap funding measure that reopened the government ends Feb. 8, according to Troy Tingey, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Council 214.
The council represents thousands of workers at Wright-Patterson.
“They’re very frustrated out there in the shops, very frustrated and worry that it could happen again,” said Tingey, who is at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, and took calls from Air Force employees across the country. “… I was probably getting a call every five or 10 minutes yesterday for the first four hours.”
A shutdown ‘routine’
While this short-lived closure wasn’t expected to have a large impact on base operations, it has created instability and concern it’s now a routine, according to Michael Gessel, Dayton Development Coalition vice president of federal programs.
“The long-term effect of this is instability in the government and one more reason for government workers to be frustrated with their employer,” he said. “This kind of thing which now happens on a regular basis makes it difficult to retain and recruit the best talent which Wright-Patterson needs.
“Because the shutdown was so short, it is not likely to have significant effects on the operations of Wright-Patterson, but cumulatively this kind of thing can be very detrimental, and it’s not just to Wright-Patterson. It’s to federal installations all over the country.”
Since September, Congress has passed four short term spending resolutions while it attempts to pass a fully funded budget that includes defense spending for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1. The latest impasse between Democrats and Republicans sparked a standoff that led to the shutdown.
In October 2013, a partial federal government shutdown sent about 8,700 civil service workers at the base on furlough.
“Given that a shutdown should never occur, there is no reason that there should ever be a government shutdown happening this close on the heels of the last shutdown, it’s moving to routine,” Gessel said. “Some of the federal agencies simply took their 2013 shutdown plans and implemented them.”
Air Force museum reopens
The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force reopened Tuesday. The sprawling complex, home to hundreds of airplanes and an iconic presidential aircraft collection, closed after opening four hours Saturday.
Spokeswoman Diana Bachert said the museum opened at 9 a.m. Saturday and had not yet received a closure order from the Air Force Materiel Command.
Once the order was in hand, the museum closed by 1 p.m. after nearly 1,500 people had entered and scheduled activities were canceled.
By comparison, over the same three-day period in January 2017, nearly 4,700 people visited on a Saturday, 2,220 on a Sunday, and about 600 on a Monday, museum statistics show.
The museum also furloughed about 95 workers during the brief shutdown.
The National Park Service’s Huffman Prairie Flying Field Interpretive Center near Wright-Patterson and the Wright-Dunbar Interpretive Center in Dayton shuttered Saturday and remained closed while more than a dozen staff members were furloughed.
The centers were due to reopen during normally scheduled seasonal hours Wednesday, according to acting park superintendent Kendell Thompson.
Published: Thursday, May 24, 2018 @ 2:49 PM
— 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.
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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Published: Tuesday, May 22, 2018 @ 5:29 PM
Updated: Wednesday, May 23, 2018 @ 3:30 PM
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.
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.
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.
Published: Tuesday, May 22, 2018 @ 1:00 PM
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE — 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.
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.
Published: Tuesday, May 22, 2018 @ 5:30 AM
DAYTON — 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.
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.
“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.”