Washington at its best — or worst

There is a battle royal going on in Washington, D.C., in the halls of Congress. No, not that perennial battle between Republicans and Democrats, but one that involves Congress because members are the referees in a difference of opinion between the U.S. State Department and the Office of Management and Budget.

The State Department wanted to spend almost $1 billion to build a Foreign Affairs Training Center at Fort Pickett Army National Guard Base in Blackstone, Virginia. It eventually cut the price tag down to a little more than $400 million. The OMB says, hold on, we’ve got a better idea. Why not just expand the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center?

Why should we care? Aside from almost a half billion dollars, FLETC is in Brunswick (officially Glynn County), and the facility’s 1,600 acres is filled with all the kinds of infrastructure needed for a first rate training facility.

There was a hearing to discuss the matter Tuesday before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and it did not go well for the State Department. Georgia’s two senators, Johnny Isakson and David Perdue, have been asking the same questions the chairman of the committee, Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., asked as he opened the hearing. “We would like to learn why this half-billion-dollar project was greenlighted even though a more cost-effective alternative was available?”

While Connie Patrick, director of FLETC could say that an “all-inclusive per-week cost per trainee would be $1,600, Gregory Starr, assistant secretary for the Bureau of Diplomatic Security at the State Department, didn’t have a clue what the per-week cost would be at the proposed new facility. We do know this: Initially, the Foreign Affairs Training Center would cost $400-plus million to build whereas FLETC already exists. Georgia’s two senators, Reps. Rick Allen, R-Ga.; Sanford Bishop, D-Ga.; Buddy Carter, R-Ga.; Tom Graves, R-Ga.; Jody Hice, R-Ga.; Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga.; Tom Price, R-Ga.; Austin Scott, R-Ga.; David Scott, D-Ga.; Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga; and Rob Woodall, R-Ga.; sent a letter outlining their concerns to Accountability Office Comptroller General Gene Dodaro and urged his office to compare the two proposals. Now that a report is forthcoming as requested, stand by for another committee hearing, but this first round goes to Georgia.