Thursday July 12, 2012
The proposal to house the Air Force’s F-35A jet fighters at the Vermont Air National Guard Base in South Burlington continues to stir up controversy. Rosanne Greco, Chair of the South Burlington City Council, revealed last month that she had received a telephone call from a source at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia telling her that mistakes had been made in scoring the criteria used to qualify base locations and that some of these mistakes caused Burlington to rank much higher than it should have. Although the source requested anonymity, she told Greco that others at Langley had noticed the mistakes as well.
Once Greco made the decision to go public with this information several weeks ago, she opened a Pandora’s box of questions, concerns and doubts. The need for concrete data used to verify the claims made by the Langley source is essential, she feels.
Initial unsuccessful efforts to obtain documents, including the scoring rubric, actual scores of all six locations under serious consideration and noise contour map clarifications led Greco to enlist the help of Senators Leahy and Welch and Representative Sanders. It is the data itself, according to Greco, that will either support or refute the allegations of errors made by the anonymous Langley source. In their request, the delegation stated that “if there were mistakes, of course they should be examined and corrected. The delegation expects the Air Force to respond fully and transparently.” The requested scoring rubric has now been provided as well as the actual scores for Burlington.
The scoring model contains an objective list of criteria by which decisions about base locations are made. Answers to a series of questions determine the rankings of locations being considered as basing sites. The questions are organized in four categories: mission, capacity, environment and cost.
The mistakes in scoring, according to Greco, occurred primarily in the area of environment. Of the four questions in that category, Greco believes two were ranked correctly and two were not. In terms of air quality, one of the correctly scored criteria, Burlington received three points for having clean air, as opposed to zero points for having polluted air. For community communication, which concerns whether or not the military engaged with the community to discuss impact issues, Burlington received the maximum one point, as did all the other locations being considered because the Air Force did follow discussion procedures with each community.
The third criterion, called encroachment, was incorrectly scored, contends Greco. This question attempts to determine whether residential neighborhoods exist in the areas that would be impacted by a base. Here, the scorer was asked to give a rating of zero if there would be encroachment, and to give a rating of three if there would be no encroachment. The rating given to Burlington was three even though the airport is surrounded by residential neighborhoods.
The fourth criterion, also incorrectly scored, says Greco, is planning development. This concerns plans of any neighboring municipality to develop neighborhoods and businesses in the area affected by a base. Here again, a rating of zero means that there are development plans, and a rating of three means that there are no development plans. Burlington received a rating of three. These scores placed Burlington at the top of the list for preferred status as a base location.
Greco, a retired Air Force Colonel herself, has continued her pursuit of data. Deputy Assistant Air Force Secretary for Installation Kathleen Ferguson stood behind the Air Force’s scoring method and outcomes, saying in a letter to Greco dated July 3, “I want to assure you that Burlington ANGS [Air National Guard Station] was scored correctly in 2009 and that the Air Force’s Strategic Basing Process is working as designed and will provide our senior leaders all relevant data, to include noise issues identified in the Environmental Impact Statement, as they make a final basing decision.” The letter goes on to describe the assessment process used to narrow down 205 Air Force bases to the six “candidate bases,” of which Burlington is one. Ferguson reiterated, “I have carefully reviewed your concerns on the environmental scoring at Burlington and want to assure you that I believe no scoring error was made.”
In a phone call with Ferguson that same day, according to Greco’s written statement to media on July 8, it became clear to her that the scoring process itself was flawed. Greco realized that some questions in the environmental category were phrased in the present tense, making them relevant to F-16s in 2009 rather than to the projected F-35A aircraft.
Still lacking, even though requested by Senator Leahy’s office in early June, are the scores received by the other five candidate base locations as well as clarification of the noise contour map. Although the Air Force, at the request of local municipalities, has produced data points indicating exact streets, residences and buildings within the “incompatible for residential use” noise areas, Greco says that they now require an additional request in order for them to release that data. At the South Burlington City Council meeting on Monday, July 16, the Council will consider a formal request to the Vermont Congressional delegation to call for the release, under the Freedom of Information Act, of the clarified noise contour data and the scoring data on the other five candidate locations.
In her July 8th statement to the media, Greco also pointed out that some arguments supporting the basing in Burlington are founded on “the implied assumption. . .that if Burlington is not selected now for the F-35A, the AGS (Air Guard Station) will close. No official has ever said that. . . The Guard would likely get another mission.”
The final Environmental Impact Statement from the Air Force is expected around November. Following that, there will be a waiting period of 30 days during which the public can bring up questions and issues still unresolved. Greco feels that now is the time to have full public disclosure of the process and rankings in order to correct any errors that may have been made and to insure complete transparency on the part of the Air Force.
Rosanne Greco’s findings can be read by clicking here: Rosanne Greco - F-35A Basing Flaws Scores, Process, and Arguments
SOURCE: Lois Price, Correspondent