State Auditor General Jack Wagner wants to audit the 911th Airlift Wing at Pittsburgh International Airport as part of the latest effort to save the base from the Pentagon's chopping block.
Mr. Wagner and Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, toured the base Wednesday for a "fact-finding" review and afterward told reporters they've sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta outlining reasons why the 911th should stay open.
They and other politicians have repeatedly said the base is efficient, especially because the county provides valuable services such as firefighters that the Air Force would otherwise have to fund. Other bases around the country are much less cost-effective, they insist.
Mr. Murphy said he asked Mr. Wagner's office to conduct an independent review to bolster that contention.
"We're ramping this up a level," he said.
Mr. Wagner said he had requested information from the Air Force about four months ago so he could conduct an independent audit. He said he was told the information was coming, but he hasn't received it yet.
He acknowledged that his office has no legal authority to audit a U.S. military installation. But, he said, he can request data and prepare an analysis similar to a full audit.
"I have every right to this information," he said.
To give the request more weight, he and Mr. Murphy asked for the data again in their joint letter to Mr. Panetta.
Last month, the Department of Defense told the Air Force to postpone the closure of the 911th after Mr. Murphy and other local politicians said they needed more time to conduct a full analysis to make sure all information was being used in the decision.
The audit by Mr. Wagner's office is part of that analysis.
No timetable was set, but Mr. Wagner and Mr. Murphy said they would make the audit public.
The Air Force in February said it planned to close the 911th as part of a nationwide cost-cutting plan, but officials here have complained that the Pentagon has not provided its rationale.
Mr. Panetta has since suspended any action to close the base or retire its C-130 transport planes until Congress completes next year's budget.
In addition to that reprieve, the 911th won another battle against closure with last month's announcement that the Pentagon has awarded a $10.5 million contract to build a Navy operations center at the base. That project was authorized as part of a 2005 review of military bases nationwide.
Supporters of the 911th hope the new Navy center will bolster their case for saving the Air Force presence at the base.