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False claims target air base; Pentagon officials are skirting the truth in attempts to cut Falls Air Guard jobs

What is it with the federal government and its institutions in Western New York? First the Postal Service offered deceptive reasons for attempting to close the big mail handling center, now the Air Force is misstating the case for maintaining its Air National Guard unit in Niagara Falls. Can't anyone get the story straight?

It's as though these organizations had decided, for reasons unknown, that they simply wanted out of Erie and Niagara counties and came up with whatever excuse made some passing sense. Truth be told, though, the Air Force's rationale doesn't even clear that low bar.

It says a proposal by the Council of Governors to preserve those Air Guard slots would harm military readiness and cost more than the fiscal 2013 budget proposed by the Air Force. That might be understandable if the Council of Governors had actually made those proposals. It didn't. The Air Force, itself, did -- and some critics believe it did so purposefully, to make it more difficult for Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to approve a plan that would maintain the Niagara Falls base.

What is happening within the Air Force, then, is at least incompetent and at most deceitful. Neither reflects well on the military and, in neither case, should Panetta allow the Air Force's false and harmful conclusions to influence the decision on whether to close the base.

The arguments for keeping this base open have been made many times and even expanded, with the Council of Governors calling for the mission of the 107th Airlift Wing to switch from cargo transportation to one involving spy planes. The Air Force's plan disproportionately cuts National Guard units, which the bipartisan Council of Governors says would undercut critical state responsibilities such as emergency response and disaster recovery.

We understand and accept the military's need to change with the times. Readiness is paramount. The nation must be ready for the threats of the future, not those of the past.

We also understand the federal government's need to reduce costs in a time of truly mountainous budget deficits. That means making cuts in guns as well as butter.

But these changes need to be made rationally, not haphazardly or capriciously. This base is too important to Niagara Falls and all of Western New York to allow its fate to be decided by an Air Force whim, which is what the region is confronted with at this point.

The Council of Governors, our federal delegation and others need to keep up the pressure to ensure that the decision makers understand the facts before they make up their minds.