Abercrombie departure leaves chairmanship opening for Rep. Smith

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) is mulling a switch in chairmanship to the high profile Air and Land Forces Subcommittee, which could give him a greater role in defense issues affecting his state.
 
The chairmanship will open up at the end of February after Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) leaves the House.

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Smith’s move could add a strong punch to Washington state’s power in military matters. Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) are both senior defense appropriators.

“Nothing has been decided yet,” Smith told The Hill. “I am interested enough to think about it. It is an important subcommittee that deals with a lot of important issues. I have to think about it.”

He added that he talked to the House Armed Services Chairman, Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), about the position.

The Air and Land Subcommittee oversees and authorizes billions of dollars in funding for a large number of weapons programs, such as the multi-service Joint Strike Fighter and the Army’s modernization efforts, many of which are currently under contract to Boeing Co. and SAIC.  Boeing has major operations in Washington state.
 
Washington state and Smith’s 9th district are also home to several large military installations: the Army’ Fort Lewis; Madigan Army Medical Center; McChord Air Force Base, which houses C-17 cargo aircraft; and the Washington State National Guard at Camp Murray.

Smith has been on the radar screen of several major defense companies, such as Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, which have all donated to his congressional campaign in the last several years.

Smith sits on the House Armed Services Committee and chairs the panel’s Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee. He has thrived in that position. But the higher profile of the Air and Land Subcommittee has the Washington lawmaker mulling whether he should make the jump.

Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas) is next in line after Abercrombie, but he chairs the House Select Committee on Intelligence, which precludes him for taking on other chairmanships.
 
Rep. Vic Snyder (D-Ark.) was next in line, but his spokeswoman said he decided to keep the chairmanship of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. Snyder also announced on Friday that he would retire. Smith follows Snyder in seniority.

Smith would take over the chairmanship at the beginning of the 2011 Pentagon budget approval process and the release of a sweeping review of military strategy and capabilities, known as the Quadrennial Defense Review.

Meanwhile, Abercrombie who is leaving the House to concentrate on his run for governor, has left a strong imprint on the subcommittee. Throughout his tenure, Abercrombie was an early and vocal skeptic of the now defunct VH-71 presidential helicopter, particularly raising alarm about the growing list of requirements for the helicopter and the testing schedule.

Abercrombie also performed constant oversight of the Army’s Future Combat Systems --the service’s ambitious modernization plan -- and questioned the program’s concept, budget and schedule.

He pressed the Army to have much more rigorous technology testing plans and realistic cost estimates.  His combination of funding cuts and legislation fundamentally reshaped the program, and led -- in large part -- to its demise, said a congressional source.  Now, the Army is pursuing modernization as part of separate programs rather than the ambitious FCS.

Abercrombie was also a strong supporter of an alternative engine for the Joint Strike Fighter, authorizing funding for the engine made by GE and Rolls Royce despite strong opposition from the White House and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

And he left his mark on issues such as force protection and increased funding for Army National Guard and Reserve equipment.