By Erin Walsh | USA Today
The brewing battle between the Air Force and the Civil Air Patrol has spread from Maxwell Air Force Base to Capitol Hill, pitting a Montgomery House member against a senator who is a patrol officer.
Sen Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, a colonel in the Civil Air Patrol and a strong congressional supporter, said Thursday he will fight Air Force attempts to pass takeover legislation later this month.
“I am opposed to the Air Force taking over the CAP,” Sen Harkin said. “A takeover by the Air Force is unwarranted and will not be approved by Congress.”
The 60,000-member civilian auxiliary, headquartered at Maxwell Air Force Base, works jointly with the Air Force on search and rescue missions and cadet-training operations. Congress designated $28 million for the nationwide auxiliary last year.
The Air Force proposal cites “overlaps and inefficiencies in CAP management.” But Harkin says the Air Force has not provided examples of mismanagement.
Rep Terry Everett, R-AL, however, said letting the Air Force take control of the civilian-run operation may be the only way to keep it alive.
“I’m concerned that if we don’t let this pass, it will shut down the CAP,” Everett said. “The CAP needs money and support from the Air Force, and this political spitting match is missing that point.”
“Rep Everett will vote to pass the takeover measure,” he said.
“The debate over the takeover measure is more political than practical,” he said.
“Sen Harkin needs to remember to concentrate on the fact that we need to keep the patrol alive,” Everett said. “I hope people won’t use this as a public relations stint. Our civilian patrol is worth more than that.”
The Air Force plan, which would replace the air patrol’s civilian management with a military-run executive board, will be tacked onto a defense authorization bill, which will be up for approval in the House this month, Everett said.
“If it becomes a choice between having that funding or keeping civilian control, I’ll choose the funding to keep CAP alive,” Everett said.
Alabama senators stepped cautiously around the air patrol issue Thursday. Andrea Andrews, spokeswoman for Sen Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, said Shelby did not have enough information to comment on the plan. Sen Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama, is reviewing the Air Force proposal and has no comment, press secretary John Cox said.
Attaching the amendment to the large defense bill will give it a good chance of passing through the House, Everett said. The plan would then have to pass through the Senate in similar fashion and be signed into law by President Clinton.
The process could take six months to a year. The proposal, drafted earlier this week by Air Force officials, would establish an executive committee led by Air Force representatives to run the patrol. The board would hire an executive director and name a national commander for the auxiliary. Both positions could be filled by civilian or military representatives.
In a memo last week to Brig Gen James Bobick, the patrol’s National Commander, Acting Secretary of the Air Force F. Whitten Peters revealed plans to rally congressional support for the takeover.
“No doubt there will be some who do not welcome the oversight sought by the Air Force,” Peters wrote. “We would have liked to move forward with you, but lack of consensus cannot prevent action. Thus, the Air Force has elected to work with Congress on legislation.”