Awaiting Relief Funds, Wilson Defers Dozens of Maintenance Projects

The final price tag for post-storm recovery at Offutt AFB, Neb.—shown above submerged by floodwaters—and Tyndall AFB, Fla., is still evolving, the Air Force said. Offutt AFB photo via Facebook.

Recovering Tyndall AFB, Fla. and Offutt AFB, Neb. will require $1.2 billion in fiscal 2019 and $3.7 billion across 2020 and 2021, even as the final price tag continues to evolve, the Air Force said Wednesday.

The new figures come as the Senate considers an emergency disaster-relief spending bill that would help offset the cost of cleanup and early restoration work.

Speaking at the Heritage Foundation this week, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said she decided on Tuesday to pull more than $250 million from 61 projects at 33 installations in 18 states to pay for rebuilding efforts at hurricane- and tornado-ravaged Tyndall. The base needs about $1 billion by the end of September for operations and maintenance projects, as well as to plan its next steps, Wilson said earlier this month.

She warned that if Congress failed to pass a supplemental funding bill by April, the service would be forced to shortchange projects at other bases. Those include runway and roof repairs, dormitory renovations, laboratory demolition, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system updates, according to a list provided by the Air Force.

Wilson will decide whether to defer other projects in the next two months if supplemental funding doesn’t come through.

“The Air Force must cut critical facility and readiness requirements, driving Air Force-wide operational risks and negatively impacting the recovery of Tyndall and Offutt,” the service said.

The Air Force laid out a stark timeline: Without additional money, the Air Force will stop all new recovery work at Tyndall on May 1 and pause aircraft repairs on May 15. Recovery at Offutt, “with the exception of immediate health and safety needs,” would be stymied as of July 1, and 18,000 flight training hours would be cut starting Sept. 1.

Temporarily ending Tyndall recovery “delays the return of full base operations, severely impairs flight operations, and forces personnel to continue to work in degraded facilities,” the service said. Five bomber aircraft could be grounded in September if the service curtails aircraft repairs, which would also create a long-term maintenance backlog for the E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System.

While Wilson noted the service is in the early stages of calculating the price of restoring Offutt, which is partially underwater after a severe storm caused flooding, the Air Force said it immediately needs $350 million in 2019 for facilities sustainment, restoration, and modernization and support.

In 2020, the Air Force wants about $893 million in operations and maintenance funding and $2.5 billion in military construction dollars for Tyndall. Offutt’s needs that year are yet to be determined.

In later years, Tyndall will also require about $127 million to buy new equipment.

A supplemental funding bill under consideration in the Senate this week would cover slightly more than half of the service’s 2019 O&M requirements for Tyndall and about one-fourth of the base’s MILCON needs through 2021.

The $13.5 billion spending package includes $400 million for Air Force operations and maintenance. Another $700 million for military construction could be used for recovery efforts until Sept. 30, 2023.

However, the service wouldn’t be able to tap into the funds until it sends House and Senate appropriators a “basing plan and future mission requirements for installations significantly damaged by Hurricane Michael.” The Air Force Secretary must also give appropriators a “detailed expenditure plan” for the money within 60 days of the bill’s enactment.

The proposal is a modified version of a bipartisan disaster-relief funding package released last month. The Senate will continue considering the bill Thursday.