Air National Guard to get $10.2 million for new facilities, Durbin defends earmark funding

Andrew Adams
State Journal-Register

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, announced Monday $10.2 million in federal funding for a new complex for the 183rd Air National Guard Wing. 

The Base Civil Engineer Complex will consist of two buildings and will replace seven buildings spread across the base, which is located at the Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport in Springfield. 

Durbin said he was proud to direct this spending at a time when the country has relied on the National Guard. 

"In the last year, we've seen more activities by the guard across the United States than any time since World War II," said Durbin, pointing out that guardsmen have responded to the pandemic, natural disasters and to secure the United States Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. 

The 17,700 and 6,600 square foot buildings are designed to address the high operating and maintenance costs of the existing buildings. The project contract is set to be awarded in September, with an estimated completion data in September 2024, according to the Illinois National Guard's Public Affairs Office. 

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"So many of our facilities are older and not really built for the new modernized military that we have today," said Maj. Gen. Rich Neely, who added that the project has been "nearly 20 years in the making."

Neely is the adjutant general of Illinois and commander of the Illinois National Guard. 

Three of the seven buildings planned for replacement do not meet anti-terrorism and force protection requirements, according to project documentation from the 183rd Wing. 

"We have some really high-tech operations going on here, some of which we can't talk about," said Neely. "But we have intelligence teams, communications and cyber capability here that are constantly supporting throughout the state." 

Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder said the funding is a "recommitment" to the Air National Guard. He added that having the base in Springfield helps boost the local economy.

The project funding came through an earmark Durbin requested. Earmarks are congressionally directed spending requests and are a way for members of  Congress to request funding for projects in their districts. 

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, speaking with a member of the 183rd Air National Guard at an event celebrating funding for a new Base Civil Engineer Complex at the Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport in Springfield.

Funding for the facilities was signed into law by President Joe Biden on March 15 as part of an omnibus appropriations bill passed in early March. 

Ten years ago, Congress banned the use of earmarks as a funding mechanism after attempting to impose new transparency requirements to the process, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service.

The practice was revived about a year ago with new oversight rules. 

“In recent years, Congress has ceded too much of its Constitutional authority over spending to the executive branch to make decisions about how and where to invest federal taxpayer dollars," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, last April when he announced his intention to bring back earmarks. Leahy is the chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. 

The new restrictions include limiting earmarks to 1% of all discretionary spending, a ban on giving funds to for-profit entities, transparency requirements and requiring an audit from the Government Accountability Office. 

This year's appropriations bill is the first to include earmarks since that ban went into effect. 

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Durbin has defended the practice.

"Earmarks are an opportunity for members of the Senate and the House to pinpoint direct project funding in Washington and make sure it comes home to congressional districts and to your state," said Durbin. "It's very open and transparent from start to finish. We're not trying to sneak this past anybody." 

Durbin requested more than $255.3 million in earmarks this year, according to his website

The requests included a range of projects  such as a $52 million to pay for the demolition of federal buildings in downtown Chicago, $45.1 million request for the Army Corps of Engineers, $22 million to repair or replace pump stations in Cahokia Heights and $21 million for other sewer projects in Madison and St. Clair counties. All were part of the 2022 omnibus spending package.