Editor’s note: This op-ed is by James Marc Leas, a patent lawyer from South Burlington.
Dear Sen. Leahy,
A shocking report about F-35 basing decision in Burlington and Sen. Leahy appeared in the Boston Globe, “As jets seem bound for Vermont, questions of political influence arise,” by Bryan Bender, April 14, 2013. A Pentagon official told the reporter, “the base-selection process was deliberately ‘fudged’ by military brass so that Leahy’s home state would win.”
The Pentagon official further said, “Unfortunately Burlington was selected even before the scoring process began … I wish it wasn’t true, but unfortunately that is the way it is. The numbers were fudged for Burlington to come out on top.”
Sen. Leahy, the Globe reporter writes that in your emailed statement to him you “did not respond to allegations of political influence.” Not just Vermonters but all Americans deserve an answer now to the question posed in the article: Was political influence involved? Do you agree or not that important decisions, like this one, should be based strictly on the facts, without political influence?
The article explains how you have substantial political influence over Air Force decision-making: “Leahy, elected in 1974, is a powerful figure in the Senate. He is the longest-serving member and a senior member of the Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Defense, which exerts great control over how the Pentagon spends its budget.”
“While the Air Force was conducting its F-35 National Guard base evaluations, Leahy was simultaneously sponsoring successful legislation that significantly elevated the National Guard’s status within the military by making its top official a four-star general and giving it a seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.” Could this little nugget mean something other than payback in place for a deal to push forward the trillion-dollar F-35 program with basing in Vermont?
We learn that, “as cochairman of the National Guard Caucus in the Senate, Leahy also is a prominent booster of the Guard and looks out for the Guard’s interests in Washington.”
Certainly, as a former prosecutor, wouldn’t you agree that the allegation by a Pentagon official of deliberate fudging by military brass is serious? Particularly in view of a trillion dollars of taxpayer money being involved in the F-35 program?
Just one problem: thousands of Vermonters are getting shafted. The Air Force says that nearly 3,000 homes will be in a zone the Air Force considers “unsuitable for residential use” if the F-35 is based in South Burlington. The Air Force says that F-16 noise already put 200 homes in that noise zone in South Burlington. Fifty-five of them have been demolished and the rest are awaiting demolition. We have firsthand experience here in South Burlington with the damage F-16s noise did to a whole neighborhood of affordable homes. Do you think, in the face of that destruction and a Pentagon official charging undue political influence, that the people here will allow thousands more homes to be put in that same noise zone?
The 8,000 Vermonters living in those 3,000 affordable homes in South Burlington, Burlington, Winooski and Williston expect you to look out for their interests in Washington. And not do anything that might sacrifice homeowners and renters living in our towns and our communities. Why would you continue to refuse to meet with any of these 8,000 if you were fighting to protect them?
Sure, I understand that developers — like Ernie Pomerleau, who is quoted in the article — may have much to gain personally as homes are demolished and land near the airport becomes available for commercial development. Can we expect you to protect thousands of Vermont homeowners and renters or not? Or will you put Ernie Pomerleau’s interests first? When thousands of homes and families are at severe risk from the noise zone and the crash zone of the F-35 — and from developers who may be seeking to use the noise zones to their own advantage?
Sen. Bernie Sanders told the Globe in a statement, “’I take seriously allegations that the scoring process may have been flawed’ … adding that the Air Force should release all of its documentation. ‘I do believe the process must be transparent and fair.'”
Certainly, as a former prosecutor, wouldn’t you agree that the allegation by a Pentagon official of deliberate fudging by military brass is serious? Particularly in view of a trillion dollars of taxpayer money being involved in the F-35 program? And the possibility that certain developers here in Vermont can personally gain while thousands of homeowners and renters stand to lose their affordable homes in Burlington, Winooski, South Burlington and Williston? Wouldn’t you agree that an impartial, transparent and independent investigation of these allegations is needed? Wouldn’t you agree that if wrongdoing by military brass is found by that investigation, the officials responsible should be prosecuted?
In view of the allegation in this Globe article by a Pentagon official that “the base-selection process was deliberately ‘fudged’ by military brass so that Leahy’s home state would win,” that “the numbers were fudged for Burlington to come out on top,” and that certain developers, including Ernie Pomerleau, are positioned to personally gain while thousands of families lose their homes, will you immediately ask the Air Force to stop considering Burlington for the first basing round, as recommended by 15 members of the Burlington area clergy? Such a solution will enable the Air Force to start its process over again, publish all its scoring sheets, and base its selection strictly on the facts. And without regard to any political influence that may have been applied.