The 911th's reprieve: More work must be done to save the military base
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Supporters of the 911th Airlift Wing at Pittsburgh International Airport are celebrating a reprieve issued by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, but they've still got their work cut out for them.
In letters to leaders of the U.S. House and Senate defense committees, Mr. Panetta said that rather than proceeding with plans to shut down various bases around the country, including the 911th -- a move that also imperils the 171st Air Refueling Wing -- "the more prudent course of action is to take a cautious approach." Being cautiously prudent or prudently cautious is hardly specific, though, and a full reading of his statement does not suggest strong support for the local base in the long term.
The reason he gave for suspending the transfers and retirements of equipment from the 911th, and other bases affected by the nationwide plan announced by the Air Force in February, is that Congress has not provided the $1.4 billion needed to accomplish the restructuring. Mr. Panetta's order affects only action in the federal 2012 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
Congress has its own ideas, which carry their own set of advantages and disadvantages. Bills pending in each chamber could save the local military operations but they also could hamstring the military's ability to manage its own facilities nationwide by increasing congressional authority.
Still lacking is any promise that the real advantages of keeping the 911th alive will drive the decision about its future.
The relevant facts are these: Keeping the 911th and the 171st operating will save an estimated 1,900 jobs that have an annual economic impact locally of $93 million. In the last decade, the Pentagon has spent millions on renovations at the 911th, the Navy Reserve has plans for a joint operations center and a new commissary is being built nearby in Moon. The base's proximity to Pittsburgh International gives it enviable flexibility for expansion. By all accounts, it is an efficient, well-managed operation.
A base-by-base comparison is bound to favor the 911th. The job of convincing military brass to undertake such a study, and then to act on its findings, is the challenge for the region. Failure cannot be an option.
First Published July 4, 2012 12:00 am