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.

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Senate defense bill has $66M less for Wright-Patt project than House

Published: Friday, May 25, 2018 @ 5:43 PM
Updated: Friday, May 25, 2018 @ 5:43 PM

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

The Senate Armed Services Committee has set aside $116 million for a National Air and Space Intelligence Center complex expansion at Wright-Patterson, millions less than a House version in a defense bill, but a spokeswoman says U.S. Sen. Rob Portman will advocate for the full amount.

The $182 million project would vastly expand NASIC, add new computer labs and equipment and relieve overcrowding as the agency has grown to more than 3,000 workers over the past 15 years, authorities have said. The secretive intelligence agency provides assessments of air, space and cyber threats to national political and military leaders.

“This is important for the political and national security work done at NASIC and good for the base,” Portman said.

In a House version of the fiscal year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, the authorization bill combined what had been two years of funding for the project — $116 million one year, and $66 million for the next — into one year.

Portman spokeswoman Emily Benavides said Friday while the Senate version wasn’t expected to impact construction, the senator would advocate for the full amount when it takes up the issue in June.

RELATED: Massive project could be one of the largest in Wright-Patt history

The Air Force had initially asked for the funding in two separate amounts over different years.

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, whose district includes Wright-Patterson, had advocated for the funding in one year in the House legislation.

The House Armed Services Committee member said in an interview sit was a “big win” for the base “which gives us the assurance this is a project that will go forward.”

As national decision makers and others have demanded more intelligence, NASIC’s workforce has increased by about 1,500 employees, or 100 a year between 2000 and 2015, according to the agency.

The building would bring employees in six different locations into one facility. An expansion would add 900 seats to house intelligence analysts and engineers and add labs.

NASIC expects the Army Corps of Engineers to award a final contact by 2020 with a 2½-year construction schedule. Total funding in future years will determine the size of the expansion, however the Air Force has said NASIC has a deficit of 255,000-square-feet, she said.

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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.

RELATED: Turner urges EPA administrator to release chemical pollution study

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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