Jul 25, 2014

Murphy Calls 911th Closure the 'Quick and Easy' Decision

The Congressman criticizes the Air Force for its plans to shutter the Moon-based 911th Airlift Wing.

Murphy Calls 911th Closure the 'Quick and Easy' Decision

Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, told members of the House Armed Services Committee Tuesday that closing the Moon-based 911th Airlift Wing would be "like an NFL coach being told to cut its roster by removing its first string." 

Murphy argued against the Air Force's planned closure of the installation, slated to take place by the end of 2013. The Congressman touted recent Iraq and Afghanistan deployments by members of the base during his testimony before the committee. 

Murphy and other members of the Pennsylvania delegation are attempting to the closing of the airlift wing, which would eliminate more than 1,100 military personnel positions. 

The base closure is a part of an effort to drastically cut federal defense spending. The neighboring 171st Refueling Wing is also set to undergo a realignment and personnel layoffs as a part of the plan. 

Read Murphy's full below: 

Mister Chairman, Members of the Committee, and in particular Mr. Shuster - I thank him for his personal efforts on this issue:

I thank you for your time and efforts in service to our nation’s defense, our soldiers, and military families. I am grateful for the opportunity to share with you the deep concerns of Southwestern Pennsylvanian has about Air Force plans to close the 911th Air Reserve Station, which houses C-130 Hercules transport planes, and the transfer of four KC-135 refueling tankers from the 171st Air National Guard station. These facilities, which are located in Moon Township near Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district, are both located at the Pittsburgh International Airport. The 91th and 171st are two of the most accomplished, cost effective, and decorated installations in the country. They possess unique value to our nation’s military, and I fear the Pentagon is proceeding with an irreversible course that is misguided, misinformed, and mistaken.

It’s a present day version of the $400 hammer and the $200 toilet seat, cut in haste and pay in the long run. Over the past two months, I have been pushing the Air Force to provide documentation justifying these actions. The report, which I recently received, confirms what I have suspected all along—the Air Force is making a quick and easy decision rather than the economical one.

They are doing what they think they can instead of what they should. The Air Force’s analysis relies on two flawed premises: First, they believe the 911th has the oldest and costliest C-130s and indeed they do, but they were given those old C-130s when they took their newer planes from them.

Number two: the decision to close the 911th doesn’t require congressional approval, another flawed assumption. First, I said the 911th has older aircraft only because the Air Force sent the newer ones off to combat. They gave the 911th the older high maintenance models. Second, the Air Force falsely believes the 911th has fewer than 300 authorized personnel, which means no congressional approval would be needed for the closure. However, that base actually has more than 300 civilian employees, but the Air Force is using different accounting methods for that.

Now I dispute the numbers of the Air Force, and I believe the 911th is a victim of its own success. I should also note by sharing expenses with nearby bases and the Pittsburgh International Airport, the 911th has fewer personnel for a low cost of $20,000 per year. The Pittsburgh Airport, which has four 10,000 foot runways takes care of snow removal, fire and safety security, and a control tower all given to the air base at next to nothing charges. By sharing all of these expenses and by having fewer personnel the irony is if the 911th was less efficient and costlier to operate, the Pentagon wouldn’t have the power to close it. Ironically as I say if the Airport Authority did not offer those personnel it would cost the US Air Force about $40 million over ten years instead of $200,000 over ten years. And there you have your $400 hammer again

I am confident that once you review the data I am sure you will agree that these bases must remain fully operational. First, a little background. The 911th and 171st are highly decorated. Now stop and think also a base called 911. Few dates are etched in the minds of Americans with more patriotic emotion than 911. Imagine other places such as Pearl Harbor, Valley Forge, or Gettysburg being cited for dismantling.

I should also say the 171st was handpicked to serve as the lead unit for combat support missions enforcing the Libya “no-fly zone.” The 171st executed more mission hours in the last two years, and had the lowest total non-mission capable rate for maintenance, amongst all KC-135 guard units. It would be like an NFL coach being told to cut its roster by removing the first string so they can save some money.

Beyond the accolades are strategic reasons why these bases must remain open. The 911th and 171st offer joint training with other units, and regularly work with local emergency responders and federal law enforcement. As part of the military’s disaster preparedness responsibilities, few places have the assets of Pittsburgh, which is located within two hours’ flying time of seventy percent of the USpopulation. And, the region’s world-class medical system offers a unique combination of supportive operations and a readily accessible airlift, which is included in the national disaster medical system which trains doctors and nurses to respond to disaster stricken zones and therefore be ready if problems should happen again from an attack from terrorists.

End-strength at both bases is extremely high because commanders recruit from a unique talent pool trained and working in commercial aviation and it’s one of the highest recruiting units.

I am deeply worried that these structure changes will cost the Air Force a great deal more. And for all of these reasons the Pentagon is making sizable investments. I should say they have spent more than $58 million in the last five years on new buildings some yet to reopen, new security gates, new medical facilities, and newly rehabbed buildings.

I am troubled that they are relying on faulty assumptions about the acreage. The Air Force says the 911th can’t house more than ten C-130 Hercules aircraft. This is untrue, and it has been offered additional space by the county airport authority of 20 acres so they can support up to 20 more airplanes.

On behalf of the 168,000 active duty soldiers, reservists, guardsmen, and veterans who call Southwestern Pennsylvania home, I seek your assistance.

First, I urge you to include in the National Defense Authorization Act my bill — H.R. 3911—that would stop the Air Force from transferring any planes from the 911th until Congress reviews the matter. Today, the Pentagon seeks to close down the 911th  in my district without congressional approval. Tomorrow, it could be a base in your district. Congress has an obligation to make sure these hugely impactful decisions are done fairly and impartially.

Second, I request a full and accurate cost-benefit analysis of the Air Force’s decision that: compares the 911th and 171st against installations with similar missions; calculates cost savings due to resource sharing with the Pittsburgh International Airport and nearby bases; accounts recent investments at the base; considers the offer from Allegheny County for additional land; and examines the potential impact on recruiting.

Decisions of this magnitude should be made in the best interest of the taxpayers and the military—not because it’s the easy option. Again, I thank you for your time and am happy to answer any questions.

Sound off: What do you think of Murphy's testimony on the 911th's closure?

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