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HILL COULD SUFFER UNDER A PLAN TO SHIFT WORK TO PRIVATE FIRMS

SHARE HILL COULD SUFFER UNDER A PLAN TO SHIFT WORK TO PRIVATE FIRMS

The Air Force's plan for the next quarter century includes shifting more support services to private contractors - which may spell trouble for Hill Air Force Base.

That base, Utah's single largest employer, is one of five huge air logistics centers nationally that provide depot-level maintenance - such as scheduled maintenance, upgrades and repairs to F-16 fighters.The new document continues a push by the Clinton administration to turn over as much support work as possible to private contractors.

For example, the administration even proposed last year to "privatize in place" two of Hill's sister depot bases in Texas and California - even though they had been ordered shut in the base-closing process - by giving their operations to contractors.

That would take away work Hill would otherwise receive and reduce its ability to use its facilities to capacity - which makes its survival more shaky. Republicans in Congress have so far successfully blocked such "privatization in place."

But the new document may help set the stage for continued fighting on it because it says the Air Force will "push more support functions into the civilian work force and, in many cases, into the private sector."

Gen. Dave McIlvoy, head of long-range planning for the Air Force, told the Deseret News that is just a general goal, and what it means specifically for bases such as Hill has not yet been evaluated.

"The direction is to take a look and ensure best value for an organization, look at areas where it makes sense to privatize with no particular recommendation on what to do," he said.

But Bill Johnson, legislative director for Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, said it signals coming battles over where to draw lines on what should be contracted and what the Air Force should retain itself.

Johnson said that among those fights may be another round of whether to allow "privatization in place" to save bases competing with Hill - even though changes sought by Clinton to allow it last year were all soundly defeated.

"It's up to them to decide whether to fight that again. If they do, I know what will happen. We will win again," Johnson said.