The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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May 1, 2013

Abrams tank vs. NDIC: Playing politics

— If it weren’t so incredibly appalling, area residents could find sick humor in the funding irony playing out in Congress.

While senior Army officials repeatedly have said “no thanks, we don’t need them,” legislators push on with building more Abrams tanks. In fact, lawmakers from both parties have devoted nearly half a billion dollars in taxpayer money over the past two years to build improved versions of the 70-ton Abrams, which cost about $7.5 million each.

“If we had our choice, we would use that money in a different way,” Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff, told The Associated Press last week.  

Well then, why not scrap tank construction at a time when budget constraints are forcing funding cuts all over the board?

It’s all about politics and powerful legislators saving family-sustaining jobs at and around the Lima, Ohio, plant where the Abrams is built.

The plant is Lima’s fifth-largest employer with close to 700 employees, down from about 1,100 just a few years ago.

But what about the family-sustaining jobs at the National Drug Intelligence Center in Johnstown? Where were these same politicians in 2011 when Republican Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona successfully pushed for NDIC’s closing?

Has Flake mounted an attack about wasted spending on the Abrams tank, similar to what he did as he helped shutter NDIC, which once employed 350-400 workers here?

Don’t get us wrong. We long have railed against pork-barrel spending, even any targeted for Johns-town. But we were convinced then and we’re convinced now that NDIC provided a valuable service to our nation’s war on drugs and terrorism, and that taxpayer dollars coming here for NDIC were well spent.

And as Congress and President Obama wrangle over a new federal budget, we again worry about our defense industry giants. Will lawmakers supporting Abrams jobs be as concerned with saving jobs in our region?

Nobody in government – state in this case – was appalled when a new prison was built in jobs-rich Centre County and more than 500 jobs were doomed in Cresson. It was explained as saving taxpayer dollars.

Perhaps pundits might say the shoe is on the other foot for the Johnstown region: When U.S. Rep. John Murtha headed the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, money flowed into Cambria and Somerset counties.

While we have seen a lot of job diversification take place over the years within our defense industries, we obviously worry that we’re still in a very fragile position when it comes to defense cuts.

Be wary: Will jobs in Cambria and Somerset counties be easier for powerful legislators to eliminate than those in Lima, Ohio?


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