Virginia delegation races to save jobs in Pentagon plans to close Norfolk site

Virginia’s congressional delegation is racing against the clock to preserve as many jobs as possible in their state as Pentagon leaders want to finish their plans to disband the U.S. Joint Forces Command by the end of the year.

The state’s politicians met this week with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen and the Commander of Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) Gen. Ray Odierno to discuss Gates’s recommendation to close the command, which is headquartered in Norfolk, Va.

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After the Nov. 23 meeting with the Pentagon officials, lawmakers sounded more optimistic about being able to preserve some key functions performed as part of JFCOM and, with those, potentially several thousand jobs in an area heavily dependent on the military.

There are close to 6,000 people working for JFCOM.

Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) said he was holding Pentagon leaders to the promise that Odierno will start discussions with Virginia's Commission on Military and National Security Facilities about the command’s future.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) formed the commission partly in response to Gates’s Aug. 9 announcement that he planned to close JFCOM to make the Defense Department more efficient and save money.

“They are looking to finish the implementation plan by the end of the year,” Wittman said in an interview. “That is why it is important that we sit down with Gen. Odierno.”

Wittman said that some key functions, particularly the modeling and simulation, likely will be preserved in the Hampton Roads area.

This week’s meeting between the Pentagon officials and the Virginia delegation, including McDonnell, came after a tense period in which lawmakers have tussled with the Pentagon for more than three months over getting more information supporting the rationale for closing JFCOM.

Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), who is up for reelection in 2012, has accused senior Pentagon officials of “stiff-arming” lawmakers. Webb put a hold on all Pentagon nominees in an effort to wrestle more information from the Pentagon. He finally lifted the hold last week after he received the data he requested.

JFCOM is one of the 10 combatant commands that includes Central Command, European Command and Africa Command. Webb wanted to know why JFCOM was singled out for closure and whether the Pentagon has analyzed the functions of all commands and the growth in personnel in each since 9/11.

Webb said the Defense Department still has to answer “basic questions with respect to a cost-benefit analysis that shows what savings would be gained by closing JFCOM.”

“This lack of transparency and consultation stands in stark contrast to how decisions of this magnitude are made traditionally,” Webb said in a statement after the meeting at the Pentagon on Nov. 23.

For some lawmakers, the much-anticipated Pentagon meeting this week came too late in the process.

“What we have seen today was a discussion and dialogue that should have taken place in July, prior to the August announcement.” Wittman said in a statement. “It is my hope Secretary Gates remains a partner with Virginia in working through this “efficiency initiative” and its impact on this nation’s security and Virginia. Efforts to find efficiencies and eliminate wasteful, duplicative spending are needed, but I still believe we are missing elements in this decision, and we will continue to ask hard questions of department officials.”

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell stressed in a statement this week that even though the meeting with the Virginia delegation was with Gates’ “it was the latest in a series of constructive meetings between Pentagon leaders and Virginia federal and state elected representatives.”

Morrell also confirmed Gates’s acknowledgement that “even after JFCOM is gone, those functions determined to be of importance and retained will likely remain in the Norfolk and Suffolk area."