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170 research jobs could move to Wright-Patt

A proposal to explore relocating the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and 170 jobs to Wright-Patterson from Virginia has stirred opposition among that state’s congressional delegation and led some scientists to cry foul.

Advocates say a move makes sense in part because Wright-Patterson is home to four directorates of the Air Force Research Laboratories and the Air Force Institute of Technology.

Opponents say the move would threaten the Air Force’s basic science research and severely restrict access to key federal research agencies, universities and defense contractors in the Washington, D.C., region.

Caroline C. Whitacre, Ohio State University vice president for research, said AFRL and Ohio State University, the University of Dayton, and Wright State University would all potentially benefit from a move. “It certainly brings jobs to Ohio,” she said. “I think this would have a huge impact on the research communities in the area.”

Michael Gessel, Dayton Development Coalition vice president of federal programs, said in an email the potential move “could ensure better integration of basic research into the broader science and technology aims of the Air Force — which will ultimately lead to improved safety of our troops and more effective weapons systems.”

“Increasing the value of basic research to the Air Force is the best way of ensuring robust funding in the future,” he wrote.

Three Virginia congressional lawmakers sent a letter last month to Air Force Materiel Command leader Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger asking the Air Force to reject a move in part because the northern Virginia region is home to government agencies such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Office of Naval Research and the National Science Foundation, a litany of defense contractors and Virginia Tech and George Washington University. U.S. Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, and U.S. Rep. James P. Moran, all Democrats, signed the letter.

“We believe the research synergies achieved here cannot be replicated at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base,” the trio wrote. “We fear the impact that such a move would have on current and future research efforts, not just for the Air Force but for the wider academic and defense communities.”

With challenging budgetary times, AFMC and the Air Force are reviewing how best to use tax dollars, and are in the “very early stages of determining what, if any, changes might be made” at AFOSR, according to Ron Fry, an AFMC spokesman.

The American Physical Society, a scientific physics association, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc., have pushed back against a relocation.

Relocating the Office of Scientific Research would alter the agency’s culture with a shift in focus from basic to applied science and severely limit access to key federal basic research offices in and around Arlington, Va., APS President Malcolm R. Beasley wrote in a recent letter.

Most of the office’s staff would not move to Ohio and would likely be replaced by other AFRL employees, he wrote.

“The loss of institutional knowledge, combined with the shift from basic to applied research and the loss of AFOSR’s oversight of AFRL’s basic research program, would cripple the Air Force’s long term basic research program,” Beasley said in the letter.

The leader of the University of Dayton Research Institute dismissed the concerns.

“The thought that a move would eliminate basic research … makes no sense at all,” said Mickey McCabe, UDRI executive director and vice president of research. The Air Force would continue to fund basic research at universities nationwide, he said.

Even so, in an era of tight budgets, the Air Force needs assurances the money invested will lead to new aircraft and national security-oriented capabilities, he said.

“Being located next to four great directorates at AFRL, the interaction between those four directorates and AFOSR I think would be invaluable,” he said.

Adam Howard, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, said in an email the congressman “is working with the Ohio congressional delegation to address the Virginia delegation’s letter and ensure that politics doesn’t interfere with the important allocation of the Air Force’s mission.”

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