Inhofe Votes for THUD, MilCon-Va Appropriations Bill, Funding Oklahoma Priorities

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and the senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, voted today to advance H.R. 2577, the Military Construction (MilCon) and Veterans Affairs (VA) Appropriations and the Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations legislation for fiscal year 2017. The Senate passed the legislation by a vote of 89 – 8, which included an amendment authored by Inhofe and Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) to provide $18 million for regional VA directors to contract with private entities to investigate their VA medical facilities.  

H.R. 2577 includes a provision to provide an additional $1.1 billion to address the Zika virus, which Inhofe voted against when brought forward as amendment #3900.  Inhofe supported Cornyn amendment #3899, which provided the same level of funding but was fully offset with reductions in spending elsewhere in government. 

“I applaud the Senate for passing an appropriations bill through regular order that funds our nation’s surface transportation network at FAST Act levels and fully funds $77 million in military construction projects in Oklahoma,” Inhofe said. “The appropriation bill also funds important aviation priorities in Oklahoma, to include fully funding the Contract Towers program and directing FAA to work with airports to find funding opportunities to address aging facilities such as the tower at the Tulsa Regional Airport and the runway at Bristow’s Jones Memorial Airport.  I am proud that my amendment with Sen. Lankford was adopted, which will empower regional VA leaders with the resources to partner with the private sector to investigate their VA medical facilities and improve the quality of care provided to our nation’s veterans. The Oklahoma delegation is continuing to work together to address concerns with our VA medical centers and improve the access and quality of care our veterans earned and deserve. Passage of this legislation is part of the Republican-led Senate’s commitment to fund the government in a responsible and transparent way. ”

For MilCon-VA, the appropriations bill provides $83 billion. Oklahoma will received $77 million, as authorized in the Senate FY’17 NDAA, which includes:

  • Altus Air Force Base: $11.6 million to complete the KC-46 Simulator Facility Phase 2
  • Tinker Air Force Base: $17 million for the KC-46A Depot System Fuel Laboratory and $26 million for AWACS Mission and Flight Simulator Training Facility
  • Ardmore, Okla.: $22 million for a new National Guard Readiness Center

Due to the adoption of an Inhofe-Lankford amendment, the MilCon-VA portion also includes an $18 million set aside for Veterans Integrated Services Networks (VISN) to contract with outside entities to investigate and audit VA medical facilities within their regions.  The amendment was introduced on May 17, and adopted by voice vote on May 19.

For transportation, the appropriations bill fully funds Highway Trust Fund programs authorized under the FAST Act for FY’17, which totals $54.375 billion. This includes $43.266 billion for Federal-aid Highways and $706.3 million for Oklahoma in FY’17 as promised in the FAST Act.

Inhofe also secured report language in the THUD portion of the bill that directs the Department of Transportation (DOT) to update its regulations to ensure natural gas vehicles are treated identically to other vehicles unless there is a compelling safety reason not to do so. Currently, a number of DOT regulations make it more difficult for natural gas vehicles to be adopted into widespread use. This includes regulations concerning the placement of natural gas fuel tanks on public transportation buses. Some localities have also placed inappropriate regulations regarding the use of natural gas powered semi-trucks and buses on bridges and in tunnels that are inconsistent with federal interstate highway regulations.

For aviation, the appropriations bill includes $16.4 billion for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and includes the following provisions supported by Inhofe and directly impacting Oklahoma:

Contract Towers

The federal Contract Tower Program serves a vital role in connecting smaller airports and rural communities with the National Aviation System. Restricting or reducing the operations of contract towers would have a substantial, negative impact on general aviation safety, the efficiency of large commercial airports, emergency medical operations, law enforcement, agriculture activities and businesses throughout the United States. In addition, many contract tower airports are located near or adjacent to military bases and manage a substantial number of military-related and national security operations, directly supporting the readiness and training of military units, as Inhofe noted in a letter on Nov. 23, 2015, to committee leaders. The FY’17 THUD Appropriations Bill fully funds the federal Contract Tower program for the next fiscal year, in line with a bipartisan letter Inhofe sent, signed by 25 of his colleagues, to committee leaders, ensuring these towers continue to play a central role in managing the safety and efficiency of our nation’s complex airspace. 

Aircraft Certification

Oklahoma’s aerospace industry, which includes commercial, military and general aviation manufacturing, testing, researching and maintenance activities, is directly responsible for billions of dollars of economic output and employing thousands of people. Report language included with the FY'17 THUD Appropriations Bill supports efforts to reform FAA’s process for certifying general aviation aircraft and aviation products such as engines and avionics, included in the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2016, which passed the Senate on Apr. 19, 2016. The report language urges implementation of reforms that would ensure FAA maintains strong engagement with industry stakeholders so FAA’s safety oversight and certification processes includes performance-based objectives and tracks performance-based metrics. This is key to eliminating bureaucratic delays and increasing accountability between FAA and the aviation community for type certificate resolution or the installation of safety enhancing technology on small general aviation aircraft.

Contract Weather Observers

Report language included with the FY'17 THUD Appropriations Bill reflects an amendment to the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2016, cosponsored by Inhofe, which would prevent FAA from cutting Contract Weather Observer (CWO) service at 57 of the nation’s airports, including Will Rogers World Airport and Tulsa International Airport, through September 2017. These observers are meteorological professionals that record and interpret weather and climate data and supply that information to pilots, airlines, the National Weather Service, and local news meteorologists. The report language directs FAA to conduct a comprehensive study that details all safety risks, and operational effects on airports and airlines that could result from the loss of CWO service at the 57 airports targeted.

Tulsa Tower

FAA has the unique authority to manage the national airspace, which is not redundant or duplicative of any other Federal, state, local, or private effort.  In keeping with this authority, FAA has the responsibility to provide air traffic control services at airports across the country.  Currently, there are air traffic control towers leased by FAA that have exceeded their service life, but continue to provide air traffic services.  Often such towers are kept serviceable with partial structural modifications and upgrades.  This is the case at Tulsa International Airport’s tower, but the FAA has balked at providing the contractual support necessary to complete construction on a new tower.

Inhofe secured report language in the FY’17 THUD Appropriations Bill that directs FAA to work with airports to replace aging control towers and specifically encourages the FAA to enter into cost recovery leases with airports, which would provide Tulsa with the funding certainty necessary to quickly build a new tower. 

Airport in Bristow, Oklahoma

The FAA’s Airport Improvement Program (AIP) is essential to the development of public-use airports included in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems across the country.  AIP discretionary grants are matched with funding provided by the local sponsor and directly support essential airport improvements that enhance airport safety, capacity, and security essential to the use of the national airspace for the civil aviation, national defense, and the Postal Service, while also serving to promote aviation.  In keeping with its mission to provide the safest, more efficient aerospace system in the world, FAA periodically updates its safety standards, causing older airports and their infrastructure to fall out of compliance. Bristow’s Jones Memorial Airport is one of those airports.

Inhofe secured report language in the FY'17 THUD Appropriations Bill that directs FAA to prioritize grant funding for airports that need to replace runways that are no longer in compliance with safety standards. This language will significantly improve the competitiveness of Jones Memorial Airport’s request to replace its current runway in Bristow, Okla.

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