On August 8, the Department of Defense conducted a news briefing with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates from the Pentagon to discuss changes needed to reduce military spending. Gates said, “The Department of Defense cannot expect America’s elected representatives to approve budget increases each year unless we are doing a good job; indeed, everything possible to make every dollar count.” He added, “In May, I called on the Pentagon to take a hard and unsparing look at how the department is staffed, organized and operated. I concluded that our headquarters and support bureaucracies military and civilian alike, have swelled to cumbersome and top-heavy proportions, grown over-reliant on contractors and grown accustomed to operating with little consideration to cost.”
In his announcements, Gates recommended the closure of the Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) in the next six months to a year and the assignment of its force-management and sourcing functions to the joint staff. He said, “JFCOM’s remaining responsibilities will be evaluated, and those determined to be essential and still necessary to protect and promote ‘jointness’ will be reassigned to other entities.”
Eleven-year-old JFCOM is a military command made up of all branches of the services. Its headquarters are in Norfolk, with a satellite facility in northern Suffolk. It is part think tank and part training center for leaders commanding joint missions. It also assigns nearly 1.2 million troops to commanders around the world as needed. JFCOM has an operating budget of nearly $704 million and employs nearly 6,000 people, most based in Hampton Roads. Approximately 3,200 are defense contractors, about 900 are active-duty military and about 1,500 are civilian federal employees.
During the last decade, northern Suffolk has grown, and the area now faces an uncertain future. Housing developments, hotels, restaurants and retail businesses have popped up along the College Drive and Harbor View Boulevard area near JFCOM’s Suffolk facility.
Jack Hornbeck, President and CEO of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce, said, “This announcement was a surprise and for the business sector it’s devastating. We don’t know the full implications of the spin-offs of all those businesses in the northern Suffolk area. Those restaurants, retailers and hotels will be significantly impacted.”
Hampton Roads has been the target of past military cuts. In the last year, the Navy proposed sending a Norfolk-based aircraft carrier to Florida. In 2005, Virginia Beach came close to losing Oceana Naval Air Station. The Army will leave Fort Monroe in Hampton by September 2011, after the base was on the BRAC closure list in 2005.
Local officials and Virginia’s representatives in Congress felt blindsided by the news of the planned closure and intend to respond. By federal law, if the secretary of defense wants to close a base, he must notify the armed services committees in the house and Senate, and take no actions until 30 legislative days or 60 calendar days have passed. So many are asking, “Is Joint Forces Command a military base?”
On August 10, Senator Jim Webb released a statement saying, “Any decision of this magnitude should have followed the BRAC process, which would have enabled appropriate participation by stakeholders as well as consideration of the impact on the local community. The Secretary of Defense claims JFCOM is not subject to the base realignment statutes because it is a work-force reduction rather than a base closure. However, I believe a strong legal case can be made that the base closure statutes are applicable because this involves a reduction of more than 1,000 civilian personnel.”
On August 13, Virginia Senators Jim Webb and Mark Warner and Congressmen Randy Forbes, Bobby Scott, Rob Wittman and Glenn Nye sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates calling into question the strategic and legal basis for his recommendation to eliminate the U.S. Joint Forces Command. Click here to read the letter.
Hampton Roads’ congressional delegation of U.S. Reps. Randy Forbes (4th District), Bobby Scott (3rd District), Glenn Nye (2nd District, and Rob Wittman (1st District) will host a meeting on August 18 at Old Dominion University’s Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center in Suffolk to discuss the impact of this decision and to analyze and consider courses of action. This strategy discussion will include state representatives, local elected leaders, and industry representatives.
Click here to view Voice of America news story.