By Donna Leinwand | USA Today
The Civil Air Patrol could squeak out of Congress with a small makeover instead of a complete overhaul if a bipartisan amendment proposed by two senators passes.
The amendment, which would be attached to the Defense Authorization Bill being debated in the Senate, delays the organization’s power shift from civil to military until Congress can study the issue. The Senate is likely to vote on the amendment, proposed by Senators Wayne Allard, R-Colorado and Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and on the full bill before the Memorial Day recess.
The Air Force asked Congress to give it control of the 60,000-member Civil Air Patrol after a military audit found lax spending controls and poor oversight. The volunteer Air Force auxiliary, headquartered in Montgomery, AL, is governed now by a 67-member civilian board and one active duty Air Force adviser.
Under the Defense Department bill, the Secretary of the Air Force would control the patrol’s constitution, by-laws, mission, administration and governance. Air Force appointees would hold a majority of seats on the board.
“It’s not taking over. It’s just more oversight,” Maj Chet Curtis, an Air Force spokesman, said Tuesday. “We have the highest regard for the Civil Air Patrol. This is all aimed at making sure the organization runs more efficiently, more effectively.”
The CAP, known for its search and rescue missions, finds ceding board control to the Air Force particularly troubling, said Mary Nell Crowe, the patrol’s Public Relations Director.
“It silences the voice of the volunteers,” Crowe said. “If the Air Force legislation as written were to pass, I think you would lose a lot of members eventually. This would no longer be the non-profit, benevolent member organization. We’d be just another arm of the military.”
Allard and Harkin’s compromise amendment adopts Air Force proposals aimed at answering concerns raised by the audit but allows civilian volunteers to retain board control. The Air Force could appoint a paid, full-time Safety Officer and an Inspector General who would work at the patrol’s headquarters. To cure any record-keeping ills, the patrol would be required to follow Office of Management and Budget regulations for private, non-profit groups.
The Air Force Secretary would have to submit a plan to Congress establishing a nine-member, civilian-majority board. The House, Senate and executive branch would each select three members. The amendment also requests an audit by the Defense Department Inspector General.
Sen Jeff Sessions, R-AL, is expected to support the Allard-Harkin Amendment, Sessions’ spokesman John Cox said Tuesday.
“He is concerned about the evidence of waste and fraud at the Civil Air Patrol. He believes it is a serious problem that must be addressed,” Cox said. “However, the reorganization that is contained in the DOD authorization may have been put together too hastily. The Allard amendment slows this process down. Sen Sessions thinks this is a good thing.”
Sen Richard Shelby, R-AL, “is committed to the tradition and the mission of the Civil Air Patrol and is currently evaluating the proposal on the floor,” spokeswoman Andrea Andrews said.