By Jeffrey McMurray | Associated Press
The nation’s premier volunteer rescue agency ended a four-year feud with the U.S. Air Force on Wednesday by signing a formal operating agreement — the first in the auxiliary’s 59-year history.
Both the Air Force and the Civil Air Patrol, which has been loosely under its control since the President Truman administration, said the agreement will ease tensions that escalated last summer when federal agents seized computer files out of the CAP’s Alabama headquarters.
For years the Air Force had sought to crack down on alleged mismanaged funds at CAP, but the auxiliary lobbied for more autonomy on the grounds it is a volunteer organization that saves taxpayers millions of dollars annually.
In the new cooperative agreement, the Air Force strengthens its oversight, but the Air Patrol’s basic functions of search and rescue, cadet programs and aerospace education are formally recognized. That could lead to more federal funding down the road.
“It was more or less an inevitable thing,” said the CAP’s National Commander, Brig Gen James C. Bobick. “You’re operating under obsolete guidelines, and finally it became a reality that, whoops, we need to revise these.”
The CAP, with a main hub at Maxwell Air Force Base near Montgomery, AL, was established in December 1941 as a civilian volunteer rescue organization for World War II.
Six years later, President Truman declared it an official auxiliary of the Air Force, but the relationship was a loose one — relying only on a memorandum of understanding rather than a firmer cooperative agreement.
Gen Bobick said “the taxpayer expense for a typical rescue mission is $60 an hour, compared to more than $1,500 an hour if a military helicopter is commissioned. Sometimes CAP helps out in high profile searches, such as last summer’s recovery of John F. Kennedy Jr’s fallen plane off the Massachusetts coast.”
“The big winners should be the CAP cadets and leaders in the field,” the Air Force said in a statement about the deal.
The agreement between the Air Force and Civil Air Patrol didn’t come without a little congressional nudging. U.S. Senators Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Wayne Allard, R-Colorado, helped lay the groundwork for talks. Both were present for Wednesday’s signing.
The agreement also was attached to a defense authorization bill, which the Senate may approve as early as Thursday.
“We had to push very hard to get both parties to sit down and work together,” said Allard, whose home state houses the Air Force Academy.
“Once they saw we were interested in a cooperative agreement being worked out, both parties got much more serious in their negotiating.”
The General Accounting Office first suggested the Air Force and CAP should formalize their agreement in a preliminary report to Congress. The final version of that report is still pending, but it is expected to address a probe of mismanaged funds in Alabama and at other CAP offices.
Last July, a 15-member Air Force team found what it said were questionable travel expenses, missing inventory items and substandard safety policies at the CAP headquarters.
Three weeks after federal agents sieged computers and documents out of the Alabama office, CAP’s Executive Director, Paul J. Albano Sr, resigned. Albano said the resignation was unrelated.
“These investigations actually are a benefit to us,” Gen Bobick said. “The ultimate result was they have identified areas that need to improve. I don’t care how good an organization is, it is nice to have outside eyes look at it.”