An Airport for Somebody

Rep. Darrell Issa
The American Spectator
5/26/09

President Obama spent loads of political capital early in his administration to push a behemoth $787 billion “spendulous” bill through Congress. In this promised era of transparency and accountability, Americans were supposed to rest safely in the assurance that the President would hold the line against fraud, waste and political kickbacks.

Apparently, Congressman John Murtha (D-PA) didn’t get the memo.

The John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport is tucked away on the outskirts of Johnstown, PA, a town with a population of approximately 21,000. On any given day the airport handles an average of 20 passengers on a total of three flights — all to Washington Dulles International Airport. A recent exposĂ© by ABC News found the airport “virtually deserted” and dubbed John Murtha’s airport the “Airport for Nobody.”

Over the past decade, Congressman Murtha has secured at least $150 million in federal funding for his airport, in addition to a $147 per passenger annual government subsidy. Included in Murtha’s earmarks are an $8 million state-of-the-art radar system that has never been used and a $6.5 million three-story National Guard and Reserve training center that resembles a ski lodge. In 2006, Murtha siphoned off $17.8 million of defense spending to replace a 7,000 foot asphalt runway with a concrete reinforced bed. Add it all up, and so much pork has flooded into Johnstown, PA, that somebody ought to call FEMA.

Bottom line: Since 1999, American taxpayers have spent approximately $1200 per passenger to operate John Murtha’s little airport. It would have been considerably less expensive if we had provided passengers a free shuttle to nearby Pittsburgh, purchased them a full fare ticket on a regional flight and picked up their meal expense along the way.

But things weren’t looking so good earlier for John Murtha’s namesake airport when the economy took a downturn and declining passenger traffic resulted in a smaller slice of the taxpayers’ pie. Along the way, Mr. Murtha tried unsuccessfully to squeeze a few more federal dollars for his pet project, though it wasn’t until the stimulus money started trickling down the federal pipeline that he got the cash.

Once the stimulus funds were available, however, the administration designated an additional $800,000 of taxpayers’ money to pave a second runway at John Murtha’s airport. Apparently, one runway isn’t enough for three daily flights and 20 passengers.

In the best case scenario, this decision appears to contradict the president’s commitment not to allow stimulus funds “to be distributed…in response to improper influence or pressure.” In the worst, it looks like the President is now a willing party to the very system of political paybacks he so vehemently opposed.

Yet President Obama has repeatedly stressed the need “to make sure that every single dollar” of the stimulus money is “well spent.” A single dollar of waste, the President admonished, will be exposed and stopped. Stimulus funds in an Obama administration were supposed to target only those projects that demonstrate the ability to “deliver programmatic results” and “achieve long-term public benefits.”

Congressman Murtha’s airport does neither.

As the ranking member on the oversight committee, I’ve formally requested that the acting administrator at the Federal Aviation Administration provide a full account of this egregious waste of taxpayer money. How repaving John Murtha’s second runway in Johnstown, PA, stimulates anything but the congressman’s name recognition is a mystery to me, and I’m confident that it’s infuriating to taxpayers.

This is precisely the kind of waste that Washington has to stop, and time will tell if the President has the political muscle to match his rhetorical strengths. Until then, feel free to book your ticket on PorkAir to Northwestern Pennsylvania, compliments of Congressman John Murtha and U.S. taxpayers.