HAMPTON — The region’s four U.S. representatives had breakfast with local officials Friday to discuss a topic that’s crucial to the area’s economy — how best to defend Langley Air Force Base in a time of military budget cuts and uncertainty.
Langley contributes an estimated $1.2 billion a year to the Hampton Roads economy, but federal spending cuts are already whittling away at that number. The Air Force announced in July it will cut 742 positions at the Combat Command headquarters at Langley. Air Force officials haven’t said how many current civilians or active-duty troops will be affected because some positions are vacant.
The local congressmen — Reps. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, D-Newport News; Scott Rigell, R-Virginia Beach;Randy Forbes, R-Chesapeake; and Rob Wittman, R-Montross — agreed that one key to a successful defense will be speaking with a unified voice.
“It’s a very knowledgeable group who can articulate the process we need to do,” Hampton Mayor George Wallace said. “The trick in the task is pulling it off.”
The conversation at the Hampton Roads Convention Center rarely touched on the ground-floor efforts local leaders need to accomplish to protect Langley and instead veered toward the debate about national spending and cuts to the military as a whole.
The congressmen said deep spending cuts have already reduced the country’s military might to the point that it may affect the nation’s ability to extinguish global flash points and protect international routes of commerce.
They are working to find new tenants for Langley. The Air Force announced last month it would temporarily locate a new support center at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, but the lawmakers said Langley would be a good host for the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center (Provisional) when it is permanently located in the coming months.
“We’re working with the secretary of the Air Force to bring the mission support center to Langley to try to offset many of those layoffs,” Scott said. “Base-closing will be back on the agenda, and they’re unpopular, but we’ll try to put them off for as long as possible.”
Scott was referring to the Base Realignment and Closure process, known as BRAC, which was created to take politics out of the discussion of military needs. The most recent BRAC round, in 2005, led to the decommissioning of Fort Monroe and posed a threat to Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach. No new BRAC round has been scheduled, but another round of base-closings is always a possibility.
Rigell said the area’s congressional delegation needs to approach colleagues with a unified voice.
“We really need to circle the wagons on this,” Rigell said. “Your congressional delegation needs to lean into this and put its best foot forward.”
Specifics were harder to come by.
Finding federal funding to protect the nation’s military is the fundamental challenge facing Virginia’s delegation, and there are no easy answers.
Simplified, Congress is split along party lines about whether to raise taxes or find further spending cuts to free up dollars for national defense.
“We have a real math problem on our hands,” Rigell said. “Failing to come up with an agreement is hurting us.”