House Speaker John Boehner said he would be “happy to join” U.S. Rep Mike Turner in a call for a review of the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision on where to locate unmanned aerial systems test sites after the federal agency snubbed the Dayton-Springfield region in a nationwide contest to land one of the highly sought locations.
In an exclusive interview Thursday with Dayton Daily News and Springfield News-Sun reporters and editors, Boehner said he was disappointed with the FAA decision to overlook Ohio and Indiana’s joint bid.
“I thought the region did a very good job of making the case for why we have the capability,” said Boehner, R-West Chester Twp. “We have the airspace and the personnel and the technology and I thought we were in a very good position.”
The Dayton Development Coalition hired a Virginia consultant in a $1.5 million taxpayer-funded attempt to land an FAA drone test site. The FAA chose locations in Alaska, Nevada, North Dakota, Virginia, New York, and Texas.
Last month, Turner, R-Dayton, wrote FAA Administrator Michael P. Huerta expressing the congressman’s concerns about the federal agency’s snub of the region and asking for a briefing on the FAA’s decision.
“I’d be happy to join in asking for the review,” Boehner said Thursday. The House speaker said he wasn’t qualified to determine whether the region should have landed a test site, but added: “This ought to be based on science and capability and should not be based on politics which I think (Turner) has some concerns and so do I. We’d certainly like to get to the bottom of it.”
Adam Howard, Turner’s chief of staff, could not immediately be reached for comment late Thursday.
While the Air Force has launched initiatives to reduce the number of airmen by 25,000 during the next five years, Boehner said Congress fought to restore $20 billion this fiscal year to the military budget to lessen the hit of sequestration, or automatic budget cuts, that led last year to civilian employee furloughs and across-the-board cuts.
The Defense Department confronts two rounds of spending reductions: a Pentagon agreed-to plan to cut $487 billion over a decade, and nearly half a trillion dollars in additional cuts over the same time because of sequestration. Boehner called the sequester cuts unnecessary and “could hurt our ability to defend our country.”
The Defense Department isn’t without the need to cut programs, however, he said. Boehner said reforms were needed in the Pentagon’s bureaucracy and the nation needs a new round of military base closures, or the base realignment and closure process, (BRAC).
“Unfortunately, I do not see an appetite in Congress for another round of BRAC,” Boehner said. “I frankly believe there should be another round of BRAC. We have bases that are unnecessary. They need to go, but nobody has the courage to do it. That’s where BRAC came from, and I tried to suggest this a year ago and almost got my head taken off.”
Congress outlawed additional BRAC-related preparations in the fiscal year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act.
Boehner said he expected Wright-Patterson would gain with new base closures, just as it did in the last round in 2005. “I worked very closely with the Dayton Development Coalition on a plan for us to be on offense,” he said. “There’s no reason to play defense. The best defense is a good offense. And as a result, frankly, the Dayton area were net winners in that effort.”
A decade ago, Wright-Patterson gained 1,200 jobs, the 711th Human Performance Wing, the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine, and additional research work.
Boehner said he has backed a strong national defense, but he criticized the size of the Pentagon’s bureaucracy.
“How many generals do we need?” he asked. “How many admirals do we need?”
Moreover, he said, the Defense Department’s procurement process is too long and complex.
“We still have a procurement system that takes so long and is so complicated that only the biggest defense contractors can bid,” Boehner said. “And it takes so long by the time they actually award the contract, the technology is out of date. This is very frustrating.”
Boehner also said the Air Force should move its Office of Scientific Research, and its 170 jobs tied to basic science research, to Wright-Patterson from Arlington, Va., because it would add synergy to the Air Force Research Laboratory operations at Wright-Patterson.
Boehner defends his record in the district
Boehner, who has long touted his opposition to earmarks and pork-barrel spending, has been criticized by Democrats and even some conservatives for not bringing federal money, projects and jobs back to his home district which includes Miami, Clark, Preble, Darke Butler and Mercer counties.
“What is our representative doing to help bring jobs back to the 8th District and Ohio?” said Butler County Democratic Chairwoman Jocelyn Bucaro.
Boehner defended his track record of delivering for his constituents. He said he is currently helping West Chester Twp.-based AK Steel with its pension funding obligation. He also mentioned helping Tipp City retain a large employer that was looking at moving out of state and working with Darke County and the city of Piqua to upgrade their airports.
Though first elected to Congress in 1990, Boehner said “the fire’s still in the belly” to be there. He said he wanted to go to Washington “to fight for what I would describe as a smaller, less costly and more accountable federal government.”
Staff reporter Mike Pitman contributed to this report.