Sen. Mark S. Kirk is in a dispute with Illinois Democrats — one of whom is running to replace him — over who has done more to prevent incidents such as the September 2014 fire at an air traffic control facility near Chicago.
Last week, members of the Illinois Democratic delegation announced the results of a Department of Transportation Inspector General audit report that made 42 recommendations to improve security and contingency plans as a result of the Sept. 26, 2014, fire at the Chicago Air Route Traffic Control Center in Aurora, Ill.
The fire, which grounded about 2,000 flights and took the center offline for more than two weeks, was started by contract employee Brian Howard, who then attempted to kill himself.
The Democratic members used the report to make a push for longer-term government funding while Congress was debating a continuing resolution to fund the government through Dec. 11.
“We can’t continue to lurch from one extension to the next, we must come up with a plan before the end of the year to seriously address our nation’s infrastructure needs,” the Illinois members, including Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Rep. Tammy Duckworth and four other Democratic representatives, said in a joint statement. Duckworth is running against Kirk for his seat.
But Kirk’s office said the senator had already secured funding to improve security measures at Federal Aviation Administration facilities and last week’s audit was information that was already known.
Kirk, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, included language in the fiscal 2016 Homeland Security Appropriations bill “encouraging” the Department of Homeland Security to share best practices to prevent incidents such as the Aurora fire.
“Earlier this year he secured more than $20 million in funding to prevent this from happening again, but until partisans in Congress stop blocking funding bills this money won't ever see the light of day,” his spokeswoman said.
On the day of the fire, Kirk requested the FAA immediately review the center’s screening process and issue a report within 30 days outlining changes to “prevent any one individual from having this type of impact on the heart of the United States economy,” he said in a release. Members of the Democratic delegation requested the audit three days later, according to the Department of Transportation.
“Sen. Kirk didn't need to ask for yet another report to confirm what the FAA told us nearly a year ago,” the Kirk spokeswoman said.
Howard survived and pleaded guilty to charges of willfully setting fire to an air navigation facility, among other felonies, in May 2015 and was sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Duckworth’s Senate campaign said it had nothing to add to the Democrats' earlier joint statement.
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