Wright-Patt in a ‘race’ to spend $61M on new NASIC building, lawmakers say

U.S. Rep. Turner, Sen. Portman say project needs to be contracted to be safe from being used for President Trump’s border wall.

Two Ohio Republican lawmakers Thursday said Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is in a race to spend the $61 million allotted as a first installment of a new intelligence center before the Trump administration uses that money to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Both U.S. Rep. Mike Turner of Dayton and Sen. Rob Portman told the Dayton Development Coalition that while the new building for the National Air and Space Intelligence Center is a national priority, it’s got to be contracted before the dollars intended for it are safe from being used for the wall.

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“We’re kind of in a race,” Turner told the group, in D.C. for its annual three-day lobbying event aimed at emphasizing the region’s federal priorities. Thursday’s schedule included visits with both senators, Turner and Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Troy.

The $61 million, which Congress spent last year, is the first installment of the $182 million that Congress has authorized to spend to replace the World War II-era building which houses NASIC, as it’s called. Trump’s proposed fiscal 2020 budget calls for Congress to pay for the remaining $121 million for the project – a move that would pay for the new building in two years instead of the originally planned four years.

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The mission housed in the building, said Portman “is absolutely critical to our national defense.” He said the $61 million approved by Congress is “a little bit up in the air because of the national emergency.”

He said the focus is “let’s get this done as soon as possible because if we end up getting that project started, get the contracts written quickly, it’s less likely that it would be vulnerable.”

“But right now it’s in that gray zone where it could be,” he said.

Turner, meanwhile, said he has spoken to Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan and Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson about NASIC. Both have assured him that the project is on track and will likely be under contract by the end of this year or the beginning of next.

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“So the question arises as to how fast the national emergency is able to spend and allocate dollars to that project versus how soon these dollars are spent,” he said, saying that both Shanahan and Wilson seem to believe that the NASIC project will be under contract before that money can be used to pay for the wall.

Turner said his focus will be making sure Congress allocates the full $182 million authorized for the NASIC building, and said Trump’s budget offers the project a “big advantage” because it calls for the remainder of the funding for the project this year.

“It shows that one, it is a national priority and two, it speeds up the rate at which those funds are available to be obligated,” he said.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said he was “very concerned” about the potential for the Trump administration to take the $61 million back for the wall, and said he wasn’t sure it was possible to engage in a “race” to spend the money. He said the true emergency in the country is the opioid epidemic, and called the wall Trump’s “vanity project.”

“We think that NASIC is in real danger,” he said. “We shouldn’t be diverting a dime.”

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Our Washington Bureau is covering the annual meeting with Dayton business and elected leaders in Washington this week. Get the latest updates on our Ohio Politics Facebook page and on Twitter at @Ohio_Politics

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