By Mary Boyle | The Gazette
WASHINGTON – The Civil Air Patrol – which has a $30 million budget and 60,000 members nationwide – is fighting for its independence against an unlikely opponent: the Air Force.
A recent audit found lax spending practices and safety procedures at Civil Air Patrol national headquarters. It prompted the Air Force to ask Congress for control of the organization.
Civil Air Patrol leadership doesn’t want to be under the thumb of a military bureaucracy.
“We’d become a top-down management program,” said Teri Spray, spokeswoman for Colorado Civil Air Patrol.
The state’s division is headquartered at Buckley Air National Guard Base in Aurora.
“The edicts will be passed down and the volunteer organization will say we’re out of here,” Spray said.
The debate reached the halls of Congress this week, with CAP getting at least a reprieve.
The U.S. Senate approved a proposal by Sen Wayne Allard, R-Colorado, to delay transfer of CAP power to the Air Force until two studies are completed on CAP management and safety practices.
Sen Allard, defending CAP, said he didn’t want to rush into a power shift without knowing all the facts.
“The Civil Air Patrol is not some loose cannon,” Sen Allard told the Senate.
“It is not some rogue agency.”
However, a Springs air patrol commander says Air Force management likely would improve the organization’s professionalism.
“Management needs to be brought under control and members need to have a voice in leadership,” said Lt Col David Caraway of Colorado Springs, one of four CAP commanders in Colorado who oversees local squadrons.
Civil Air Patrol has three squadrons in El Paso County, totaling some 300 volunteers.
Lt Col Caraway, a retired Army sergeant first class involved with CAP for 25 years, said the Air Force is better equipped to manage CAP.
The service already provides nearly all of CAP’s funding.
Lt Col Caraway acknowledged some CAP volunteers without service backgrounds might chafe under an Air Force-run command, which likely would be a more military organization.
Still, it probably would be for the best, Lt Col Caraway said.
“From a safety perspective and what I’ve heard has gone on at national headquarters, (CAP) needs to be brought better in line,” Lt Col Caraway said.
Jim Wolffe, special assistant to acting Air Force Secretary F. Whitten Peters, said the service was pleased that CAP will get a thorough review.
“They’ll get a good outside scrub,” Wolffe said. The studies “will provide or not provide evidence that a change is needed,” he said.
Congress created the Civil Air Patrol in 1947 to aid the Air Force.
Besides search-and-rescue missions, the private nonprofit helps federal agencies during disasters and runs a cadet program that teaches leadership training to teenagers interested in aviation.
Volunteers wear Air Force uniforms with CAP insignia, receive no pay and usually hold other jobs.
The Air Force controlled CAP until around 1995, when the service placed it under civilian management to save money.
A 67-member civilian board with one active-duty adviser now has oversight.
Last month, an Air Force team traveled to Montgomery, AL, to review procedures at CAP headquarters.
“We found them in many ways to be wanting,” Wolffe said.
Findings included questionable travel expenses by CAP officials, inventory problems and inadequate and untimely financial reporting.
CAP officials dispute it all, saying they have strict standards.
“It’s unfortunate that Air Force leaders have apparently given credence to the allegations made by disgruntled former members without appropriate documentation,” Brig Gen James Bobick, CAP national commander, said in a recent statement.
The Air Force says it will evaluate the results of the CAP studies, due in February, and then decide how to proceed.
Wolffe stressed the Air Force has no complaints with local CAP squadrons. It’s the leadership that’s in question.
“The secretary (of the Air Force) feels he should be able to look taxpayers in the eye and tell them how (CAP) is spending our $30 million,” Wolffe said.
“We just can’t do that now.”