Rivalries form for vacant Armed Services subcommittee chairs

His move has set the stage for a battle between two senior Virginia Republicans, Reps. Randy Forbes and Rob Wittman, to assume leadership of the subcommittee, congressional sources tell The Hill.

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Forbes, whose eastern Virginia district straddles the Navy-heavy areas of Norfolk and Hampton Roads, is seen by some as the front-runner to take Akin’s place on the subpanel.

As the current chairman of the House Armed Services Readiness subcommittee, Forbes has seniority over Wittman on the defense panel.

Additionally, the longtime Virginia Republican has been a vocal advocate for Navy issues on the full committee. Most recently, Forbes led the charge against a Navy plan to retire seven cruisers from the fleet early.

The ship retirements were part of the sea service’s fiscal 2013 budget plan.

Forbes’s seniority on the committee, along with his involvement in Navy issues has made him the top contender for the Seapower gavel, congressional sources say.

However, Wittman’s work on Navy issues from his post as the head of the committee’s Oversight and Investigations subpanel has some on Capitol Hill thinking he could challenge Forbes for Akin’s seat on the Seapower subpanel.

He is also a co-chairman of the congressional shipbuilding caucus on Capitol Hill.

As the head of oversight and investigations, Wittman has taken the Navy to task on its proposed shipbuilding plan.

That plan caps the future fleet at 300 ships, a number that Wittman and others believe is too small to support the Navy’s post-Afghanistan strategy.

Sources say neither lawmaker has been officially approached by House Armed Services Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) about taking Akin’s subcommittee post, noting any discussion on the Seapower chairmanship would be premature so soon after Election Day.

But those sources also tell The Hill that informal conversations may have taken place between committee leaders and both Republicans about filling the post.

Similar conversations are also under way over who will succeed Bartlett’s as head of the Tactical Air and Land subcommittee.

The post has attracted at least two contenders, sources say: Reps. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) and Mac Thornberry (R-Texas).

Turner is currently chairman of the Strategic Forces subcommittee, and Thornberry heads the Emerging Threats and Capabilities panel.

While neither lawmaker has said publicly they will try to jump into Bartlett’s position, congressional and industry sources say both are gunning for it.

Thornberry may have the inside track as vice chairman of the full Armed Services panel, but Turner has been one of the most vocal voices on the committee.

Industry sources label Thornberry as the initial favorite to take over the subcommittee. 

The decision for the subcommittee chairmen will ultimately be made by McKeon, and his office declined to comment on any speculation about who will be chosen.