Murphy: Air Force 'Doesn't Have the Data' to Close 911th Airlift Wing
Rep. Tim Murphy says military officials did not prepare a cost-analysis study before planning to close the 911th Airlift Wing.
Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, said military officials remained unmoved after a meeting in which he and other members of Pennsylvania's congressional delegation argued its cost-effectiveness and its value to Western Pennsylvania.
Air Force officials are expected to provide lawmakers next week with data about civilian employees of the 911th and how the closing would affect them, Murphy said. The Air Force decided to shutter the base without conducting a cost-analysis study that would compare its operations to those at other air bases in the country, he said.
The Air Force last week announced its plan to close the 911th as a part of an $8.7 billion initiative aimed at curbing federal defense spending. Other bases, including the 171st Refueling Wing in Moon, are planned to undergo realignment under the plan. The 911th is the only U.S. base slated to close.
Murphy, who spoke to reporters at the Pittsburgh International Airport after returning from Washington, DC, said military officials cited a need for "geographic balance" and the 911th's aging aircraft as reasons for the planned closure. Each of the base's C-130 aircraft will be retired under the plan.
"If we hadn't asked the questions, we would never have known that they just didn't have the data," Murphy said.
Murphy has introduced legislation that would require congressional approval or a completion of a cost-benefit analysis before the Air Force is permitted to close the base. Local officials have touted cost savings associated with the 911th and the 171st: Both bases share runways with Pittsburgh International, which the Allegheny County Airport Authority maintains.
The 911th pays $20,000 a year for access to Pittsburgh International's four runways. Declines in the number of commercial flights servicing the airport have lessened air traffic, allowing for more check rides and touch-and-go flights for military aircraft assigned to the bases.
"Air traffic control, fire and safety—that's all provided by the airport," Murphy said. "We asked them, 'Have you done a cost comparison [to other U.S. bases]?'...and they had not."
More than 1,200 military personnel and 318 civilians are employed at the base. The Air Force has not addressed plans for handling their assignments if the base should close.
"Quite frankly, we didn't ask [about employee re-assignments] because we thought it would be premature," Murphy said. "We're still working to make sure the base stays open."
Murphy said the 911th has invested more than $50 million in the base since 2004, constructing several new facilities for medical training, lodging and aircraft maintenance.
The Pentagon has announced plans for a $13 million Navy Operational Support Center on the 911th's grounds and a $23 million regional military commissary and post exchange, which will be located at the intersection of University Boulevard and Interstate 376.
"If you go onto the 911th's base it looks new, and that's because it is new," he said. "You're going to see a lot of empty buildings [if it closes]."
Pennsylvania Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey and Reps. Jason Altmire, Mike Doyle, Bill Shuster, Glenn Thompson and Mark Critz also attended the meeting Thursday in Washington. Maj. Gen. William H. Etter, deputy director of the Air National Guard, and Brigadier Gen. James Jackson of the Air Force Reserve attended on behalf of the military.
Local leaders have said the base's closure could affect as many as 2,500 jobs, including the base's support services and contractors. It provides tactical airlift support.