Beaver County Times Allegheny Times September 4, 2005
911th saved, for now, but its future remains cloudy
By Patrick O'Shea
MOON TWP. - The idea of keeping the 911th Air Force Reserve station open in Moon Township as a joint regional response center that would help with homeland security efforts and emergency medical missions such as sending aid to flooded New Orleans has mostly been applauded by the public, but a military watcher said Thursday he remains skeptical.
John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, an Alexandria, Va., defense analysis firm, said Thursday the congressional Base Realignment and Closure Committee's decision to keep the 911th open as a homeland security facility was one of the moves that caused him to scratch his head.
"I'm not sure what this solves," he said, noting that the purpose of the BRAC process was to cut military costs, not increase them.
Pike said several decisions were made that were clearly the result of political wrangling in which Democrat members of the committee made deals with Republican members to protect one base in exchange for keeping another.
"I'm not saying that I am surprised or upset. That is the way it always has been, but to say politics was not involved would be an insult," Pike said.
With the three political leaders most involved in the fight for the 911th, U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pittsburgh and U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy of Upper St. Clair Township, both Republicans, and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, all facing serious challenges in the next election, it makes sense that they would do whatever possible to try to save the close to 2,000 jobs directly and indirectly attached to the 911th, Pike said.
Rendell acknowledged that a deal was struck for the 911th. He said Wednesday that supporters learned the night before the BRAC Commission made its announcement on Aug. 26 that they did not have the five votes needed to keep the 911th as a cargo-transport facility. So, the supporters pitched an idea that had been suggested by a recent study from Virginia think tank the Dupuy Institute that the complex link up with Pittsburgh-area medical centers and area anti-terrorism units.
Pike said other facilities had mentioned similar plans to get themselves off the Pentagon closure list, but the Pittsburgh region base was the only one successful.
Keith Dorman, a spokesman for the Pittsburgh BRAC Task Force, said the joint readiness center idea was accepted by the commission because Pittsburgh has a unique concentration of medical facilities and a lot of collaboration already is occurring.
Pike said the language on the proposal is so vague, however, that it is hard to tell exactly what the new mission for the 911th will be.
But the nebulousness of the language might let the 911th keep its options open, Pike said, noting the homeland security idea only has to serve as a placeholder.
He said regardless of what the BRAC Commission recommends to President Bush and Congress, the facility still is controlled by annual appropriations from the federal government.
So if legislators can find money, they can keep adding things to the base.
"As long as it remains open, it always is possible to finagle the process to place things there," Pike said.
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