By: Joe Cogliano

Senior Reporter- Dayton Business Journal

As Mike Turner kicks off a sixth term in Congress, his newfound influence over military affairs couldn’t have come at a better time.

The Dayton Republican is the lone member of Congress whose district includes Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. This is the first time in many decades the base hasn’t been in two different Congressional districts.

That puts even more pressure on Turner in the coming year as thousands of jobs at the base, and billions of dollars worth of economic impact from missions there, are vulnerable to cutbacks and possible realignment.

But Turner — now chairman of the House Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee — expects to play pivotal role in bolstering national security, as well as Wright-Patt. The 24-member subcommittee has oversight over a broad portfolio of Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps acquisition programs.

To illustrate the upgrade from previous assignments: instead of Air Force generals coming to his office, Turner now has the Secretary of the Air Force as well as its Chief of Staff interested in discussions.

“There’s a difference between, not only who I’m calling on the phone, but who’s showing up at my office,” Turner told me in a recent interview at his Dayton headquarters.

Observers welcome Turner’s appointment to the new position at a critical time when Department of Defense budget cuts and sequestration budget cuts, as well as a possible new BRAC, are on the horizon.

Former Congressman Dave Hobson was emphatic about Turner’s ability to impact the entire military, which is in a period of major transformation.

“This subcommittee is going to take on more significance than it had in the past and I think he’ll be a very active chairman,” Hobson said. “It’s a big load to carry, but he’s been in Congress long enough. He knows the ropes. I know he’ll do a good job.”

Michael Gessel, vice president of federal government programs for the Dayton Development Coalition, said the subcommittee has enormous control over a large part of the Air Force budget and many of the laws that govern its actions.

“What this gives a chairman is bargaining power,” Gessel said. “There has never been a representative from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base who had so much authority on the House Armed Services Committee.”

Among his other powers, Gessel said Turner can launch investigations, hold hearings and quiz senior leaders.

“There are many, many tools that the chairman of this subcommittee has and the Air Force leaders understand that,” he said. “They will work with him, as a partner, so that the business of the Air Force and the national defense moves forward smoothly.”

In addition, Jeff Hoagland, president and CEO of the DDC, expects Turner’s new subcommittee role to go a long way to boost the Dayton region’s — and Ohio’s — efforts to grow the unmanned aerial vehicle industry.

BRAC coming back in spotlight

While it seems like all of the changes from the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process were just completed, another BRAC is looming in one form or another. So Turner and others in the community will be on pins and needles again as decisions are made that could bring thousands of jobs to the region, or ship them elsewhere.

Turner is concerned about an unofficial restructuring, or “mini-BRAC” by the Air Force as a worst case scenario because it will escape Congressional oversight.

And while his power is far from absolute, Gessel expects Turner will be able to have some impact on a mini-BRAC.

“His wishes are going to be taken into consideration,” he said. “And a large part of that will depend on how hard he pushes, the timing and the legislative jurisdiction.”

But it will be a power he uses very carefully, especially since Turner is a national representative for Air Force interests across the entire country, Gessel added.

In addition, over the next few years Turner expects the Air Force Institute of Technology and National Air and Space Intelligence Center, both at Wright-Patt, to draw more work as overseas threats and cyber threats increase. Areas that were weaknesses in prior BRAC’s — prone to consolidation or downsizing — are now strengths as they are filling increasingly critical roles.

Turner will keep an especially close eye on NASIC, because its programs are targeted by other communities that want some or all of its 3,100 jobs. For example, Alabama’s Congressional delegation over the years has made multiple attempts to shift intelligence jobs at Wright-Patt to the Missile and Space Intelligence Center, based at Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala.

But defense isn’t the only local industry of which Turner is mindful.

He’s encouraged by manufacturing activity as well as research and development work, such as GE Aviation’s new Episcenter on the University of Dayton campus. And Turner sees the region well positioned for economic development.

“We’re incredibly organized,” Turner said. “I hear from communities throughout Ohio that they look to Dayton as a model with the Dayton Development Coalition, our chamber and business community being at the table for each of the aspects of planning for economic development.”

Later this year, Turner plans to introduce a bill that will require Chinese firms investing in the U.S. to play by the same rules that U.S. firms are required to follow in China. For example, because U.S. businesses are unable to acquire major Chinese firms, firms in China would be prohibited from doing the same here.

“The trade imbalance with China will need to be addressed,” he said.