Congressman LoBiondo, Seeking 12th Term, Briefs SandPaper Editorial Staff

NJ 2nd District Representative Influential on Local, National Issues
By PAT JOHNSON | Apr 06, 2016
Photo by: Ryan Morrill Frank LoBiondo (R-2nd Dist.) speaks with The SandPaper staff

Republican Congressman Frank LoBiondo’s campaign announced on Monday that it has submitted 751 signatures to the state Board of Elections, securing his spot on the Nov. 8 ballot. LoBiondo is running for his 12th term representing the 2nd Congressional District, which includes all of Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Salem counties as well as parts of Camden, Gloucester, Ocean and Burlington counties.

During LoBiondo’s most recent district work session, he came to The Sandpaper on April 4 for a roundtable with the editorial staff to talk about important local national and global issues. The first question that had to be asked was:

SandPaper: Are you endorsing anyone for president?

LoBiondo: I’m not sure. I’m watching very closely. We really haven’t heard in-depth solutions to very complicated problems; we’ve heard sound bites, and we’ve heard back and forth on not very productive discussions.

SP: How much does the local district’s interest play in national politics?

LoBiondo: We have some very important issues that I deal with on committees, but the district is first and foremost. Right now, Atlantic City is dominating the landscape, and (also) what we can do overall for the economy. I must say Sen. (Cory) Booker has been a fabulous partner in all things district-centric: on beach replenishment, grants for AC retraining, Coast Guard, FAA, the 177th (Air National Guard Fighter Wing) – all those things that I’ve poured my heart and soul into. (Sen. Robert) Menendez, too. But we’re in constant contact with Booker, texting on issues such as the LBI dredging, Army Corps and all these other things.

LoBiondo is a powerhouse in the House of Representatives, sitting on the three important committees and five subcommittees that address such varied issues as aviation safety, homeland security, emerging threats to the United States, veterans affairs and transportation.

As a member of the House Armed Services Committee he sits on two subcommittees: Tactical Air and Land Forces and Military Readiness.

He is the senior member of the House Permanent Select Committee on the Intelligence Community, which oversees 16 agencies, and he chairs the newly formed, 10-member subcommittee on the Central Intelligence Agency, monitoring emerging threats to the U.S.

He is also the senior member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which deals with all modes of transportation – aviation, maritime, roads, bridges, mass transit, railroads – but also oversees issues on clean water, wastewater treatment, moving resources by pipeline, flood damage reduction, economic development of depressed urban and rural areas, disaster preparedness and response, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Coast Guard. Because of his work on that committee, the SandPaper editorial staff asked about the local issue of beach replenishment.

SP: With all the fuss about access to do beach replenishment, don’t people realize that this is a once-in-a-lifetime deal to get beachfill for free?

LoBiondo: When we finally got the Sandy Disaster Relief money – and it was a fight – we got the Army Corps projects at 100 percent cost coverage by the federal government. Normally it’s 65 percent federal dollars and 35 percent state and local split. You will never see that 100 percent again.

SP: Is Long Beach Island guaranteed beach replenishment for 50 years?

LoBiondo: The 50-year authorization is unfortunately not 50 years of appropriations. And going back to Bill Clinton’s presidency, on through to Barrack Obama’s last budget, the line item for beach projects is zero. Now you have to start from zero, and with a $19 trillion (national) deficit, the people who make these decisions from Montana and Idaho say, “Why am I giving money to you for people to get a suntan?” And my argument is this is not about people getting a suntan; it’s about jobs and the economy. The process becomes tougher and tougher. We have done extremely well, thanks in much measure to Sens. Booker and Menendez.

But this is a very formal project; each municipality has to do their homework. The NJDEP, county, state, federal governments have a very strict criteria they go through. If you have met all that, it gets you to the table. And then the Corps has to assess the importance of the project. And that’s where we are now. Our folks in the Washington office know this is the top priority.

SP: How about the idea of using sand from the Little Egg Harbor Inlet to use on Holgate beaches? The inlet is one of the pristine inlets left; it can’t be jettied or have hard infrastructure built on it. We are hoping Great Lakes Dredging can use the sand from the inlet.

LoBiondo: We are pushing for that, but we are getting resistance from the Fish and Wildlife people. I want this so badly – it makes so much sense.

In response to the economic downturn in his congressional region, particularly the Atlantic City area, LoBiondo proposes a greater investment in the Federal Aviation Administration’s William Hughes Technical Center in Egg Harbor Township, next door to the Atlantic City Airport complex. The 55 acres of federal land is now leased to Stockton University. In February, Atlantic County committed $22.5 million in Casino Reinvestment Development Authority money to finance the first new building: the Stockton Aviation Research and Technology Park.

LoBiondo: We are expecting a groundbreaking on the first building in a month. The team has been doing tremendous behind-the-scenes groundwork with the private sector. We believe there will be tremendous interest because the companies doing this work will have the advantage of doing the work on site with federal laboratories and engineers and (be) expedited and have their contracts validated.

Once it becomes real, it’s not a cliché to say, “Once you build it they will come.” The private sector has to see it. No one else has the Tech Center. If there is a real hope for the area in the future, this establishes us as the aviation center for the nation. Not just traditional aviation, but for UAS (Unmanned Aviation Systems, i.e. drones) integration. When this research center was originally planned, we weren’t thinking of UAS; this technology has leapfrogged, and now we have all this interest in UAS, which fits nicely into our research park concept.

The beauty of this is there are billions of dollars in the private sector, not taxpayers’ dollars, because they see the value in the applications of this: power company inspections after a storm, cell phone companies doing inspections, agricultural applications of pesticides, transit rails doing rail inspections – an unending list. As the FAA sets the parameters for integration, the CNNs of the world want to use overhead videos. Thousands of these drones were sold as Christmas gifts. For us – in case of a storm, how quickly can you get the damage assessments?

The FAA is so behind the curve on the domestic applications, with giving us the parameters for testing; some of the big companies have taken their research, development and testing to Europe. So we, who are the leaders in this field, are on the edge of slipping behind because the FAA has not been able to get its act together and say, “OK, this is how you will test it.”

Our role in Congress will be to authorize the FAA to do the integration, and we do the oversight on how it’s authorized – are the privacy issues strong enough?

We have given the FAA what they need and they have just started to ramp up the rule making, finally getting it off the ground ... pardon the pun.

LoBiondo said his office has precedent in supporting and upgrading area military facilities.

LoBiondo: When the suggestion was made to move the Coast Guard helicopter training to California, we fought that off, and we strengthened the footprint in Cape May. Our helicopter air station is the largest in the nation.

The 177th is the same way. We are the only Homeland Security base in the nation that, when NORAD alerts us, can simultaneously be over Washington and New York City at the same time, taking off in two directions.

LoBiondo’s bill HR 763 would establish a pilot program where veterans could go to any hospital or center for their care, not just VA facilities. It is stalled in the House committee on health.

LoBiondo: With our veterans, we are constantly fighting the Veterans Administration; they are refusing, because of bureaucracy, to do what needs to be done. The secretary (of the VA) looked me in the eye, and he said he wasn’t going to sign it because it would cause too much turmoil. But what we did get them to do: If there is a veteran with a physical or psychological problem and can’t or won’t go to a VA facility, they can apply for a waiver and go to the facility they choose.

We have made some progress with dialysis – if you need to go to one of the South Jersey centers, you can. The Northfield VA clinic is relatively new; there is going to be a new VA clinic in Cumberland in a couple of months. But still we are woefully behind in how we treat our veterans, and it’s a condition that will never end.

On Nov. 14, 2015, a day after the Paris terrorist attacks, LoBiondo published an opinion piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer calling out the Obama administration for not having a firm policy on dealing with terrorist groups such as ISIS, al-Shabaab, Boko Harem and al-Qaida. He called for the immediate halt of Syrian refugees to the United States and for stepping up border security. He called for the courts to block Obama’s decision to bring terrorist prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to U.S. prisons. He asked for a “muscular military response to ISIS in Syria and Iraq” in cooperation with Arab and African allies. “ISIS cannot be negotiated with – they must be decimated and destroyed.”

In December, LoBiondo introduced HR 4239, the Tracking Foreign Fighters in Safe Havens bill, proposing that every six months the director of national intelligence should submit to a congressional committee a report on how many foreign fighters are in the Americas since 2011, and how many of concern are whereabouts unknown.

SP: It must have been frustrating to watch Obama cut military spending.

LoBiondo: I can’t begin to tell you what a threat this is to the country. We are holding budget hearings with armed services, and our readiness levels, across all the different branches, are at less than 50 percent. What that means, if something bad happens tonight or tomorrow in Iran or North Korea and we need to mobilize and get people in uniform and get them someplace, we can only get 50 percent of them to move. We have tank commanders that for years have been training in simulators, and during a subcommittee on readiness that commander said that now the simulators are worthless because they are third-generation programming from the 1990s and the software can’t be upgraded.

The Air Force has problems repairing runways on military bases, so the damage caused to Air Force planes is eating up the maintenance dollars, and fighter pilots can’t get the hours they need for training because they can’t get the spare parts for fighter jets.

We have a Marine unit, highly trained, rapid deployment unit, and if needed, for the first time in history, they won’t be deployed on U.S. ships. We are under 380 ships; when Ronald Reagan was president, we had over 680 ships.

The president is directing the Pentagon and Congress doesn’t have an ability to counteract this. We had an agreement for a two-year military budget, and (with) what the president did this year, broke the agreement, we don’t know what we are going to do in the next couple of months.

And for what he is doing to the intelligence community …

The reason we allowed ISIS in Syria for four years, to plan, train, without any fear, is because we haven’t been able to identify the targets because the president would not allow our people to go in and do what they are trained to do.

You’ve got thousands of radicalized terrorists unleashed from Syria. Brussels is the front end of the problem; they have been released from Syria to go out and make sleeper cells. Europe has thousands of them, we have hundreds, because some people turned off the NSA (National Security Agency) and we can’t hear what they are doing. And the FBI has to track these people in all 50 states, and it’s impossible. The CIA is overseas, but it’s curtailed.

SP: How long to get things back to where they were? How much money would it take?

LoBiondo: It takes money and it takes policy. From my travels overseas, people are beside themselves because they are operating with their hands tied behind their backs.

These people are trained and capable and they are intent on defending America, to do the right thing for us, and we are not allowing them to do it.

If the next president, whoever she or he is, puts the right people in place and starts letting the experts and the military do what they need to do, then there’s a hope to turn this around.

SP: How can you juggle all these responsibilities, from the Taliban and the CIA to South Jersey and beach replenishment?

LoBiondo: I love what I do. I am fortunate to get the opportunity to do it. I know I can’t do it forever, but while I have the chance to do it, I’m not going to waste a second, and (will) do it the right way.

Maria Scandale and Jay Mann contributed to this story.

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