U.S. Rep. Marilyn Musgrave wants to know why Congress' ban on activities promoting the expansion of Pion Canyon Maneuver Site appears toothless.
The Colorado congresswoman, whose district includes counties near Fort Carson's proposed expansion area in southeast Colorado, has sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, in an effort to find out.
Among Musgrave's concerns: Why was consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton early this year posting a Colorado Springs job for an "Army Land Expansion Project Manager" to handle the "land acquisition process" for Pion Canyon?
Musgrave, a Republican, teamed up last year with U.S. Rep. John Salazar, a southern Colorado Democrat, to secure a 383-34 House vote preventing "any action that is related to or promotes" the expansion of the site in 2008. The Senate passed the Military Construction Appropriations Act with the same language, and President Bush signed it into law.
But later, when the National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 was finalized, it included authorization for Pion Canyon expansion studies as pushed by U.S. Rep. Mark Udall and Sens. Ken Salazar and Wayne Allard, starting with an initial analysis by the Army due in July.
Musgrave is questioning why all these expansion-related activities are apparently trumping the spirit of her law.
"I request the Government Accountability Office to provide oversight on this matter," Musgrave wrote Feb. 27 to Ralph Dawn, the GAO's director of congressional relations. "Please investigate and confirm that this [Army study] and any funds allocated to perform the study are not being used in violation of federal law."
Dawn has received Musgrave's letter. He says it is under consideration, but no decision has been made.
Reports in the works
The Army is pushing for an expansion of up to 418,000 acres beyond the current 235,000-acre site, citing the need for wider training areas as war-fighting forces modernize.
Allard and Salazar inserted language into the National Defense Authorization Act that forces the Army to justify its expansion argument by the middle of this year. They also charged the GAO with issuing its own report on the expansion, which Dawn expects to be done in January 2009.
Meanwhile, the GAO is also undertaking a study requested by Udall, a Boulder County Democrat, that will review "Army procedures for acquiring land"; that Dawn says, likely will continue into November.
All this activity, Dawn adds, was required by the National Defense Authorization Act.
"It seems that the pro-expansion forces are pushing the envelope here," says Mack Louden, a fourth-generation rancher 13 miles east of Branson. "The message that I'm getting from this is that the senators want to see expansion go forward, and they'll do whatever they can to make it happen."
Just look at the language in the National Defense Authorization Act, Louden adds.
It prevents the Army from purchasing and/or condemning land until the extensive environmental study is complete. Once past that hurdle, the Army must make "every reasonable effort to acquire by negotiation the real property, or interest in real property," working with an arbitrator who would "make decisions as to the value of the real property."
Communities hard-hit by property acquisitions would be eligible for government assistance, and the Army would "ensure reasonable access" to cultural, historic and cattle-grazing places.
"It all seems geared toward expansion," says Louden, who doesn't live within the Army's proposed expansion area, but nonetheless sees it as a threat to southeast Colorado's ranching economy. "It's sort of like an open-book test for the Army. It's designed to help them make a case to go forward."
Salazar and Allard have said they are not taking a stand for or against expansion, but support the idea of analysis.
Meanwhile, Fort Carson spokeswoman Karen Linne says the post remains "committed to listening to the concerns of southeastern Colorado citizens" regarding the proposed expansion.
"Activities by the Army and its contractors are directed to meeting the needs of the congressionally mandated report," Linne adds.
Ongoing phone surveys
Bernett Research has been conducting phone polling in the region, trying to gauge ranchers' opinions on expansion. Bernett is being paid under a 2007 support-services contract with Booz Allen Hamilton, Linne confirms.
"That doesn't seem right to me," Louden says. "How did they get the money to do the calls before any legislation was law?"
In early February, Booz Allen Hamilton pulled the project manager job ad from its own Web site and several others, after ranchers complained to members of Congress.
Although the Salazar-Allard provision is law, Musgrave reminded Dawn in her letter, the provision she sponsored is also law. She wrote that the law "explicitly prohibits any appropriated funds to be used by the Army for expansion at said site."
Musgrave spokesman Joseph Brettell declined to elaborate, saying only that he expects the GAO to answer Musgrave's letter and that Musgrave will continue to support the "property rights of ranchers."