Defense Secretary to visit HR after budget cuts announcement

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) – Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel previewed the Department of Defense’s five-year spending plan at the Pentagon Monday afternoon, announcing another round of budget cuts.

“We must now adopt and make difficult decisions to make sure our military remains ready to maintain its edge over all adversaries,” he said. “However, as a result of cuts, our troops will assume risks in certain areas.”

Tuesday afternoon, Hagel will travel to Hampton Roads, “first to Langley Air Force Base to discuss the future of the Air Force at Air Combat Command and then Fort Eustis to discuss the future of the Army at Training and Doctrine Command,” according to Carl Woog, Assistant Press Secretary for the DoD.

His visit comes after his announcement of more possible spending caps imposed by sequestration. If the caps are implemented between 2016 and 2019, troop levels could be reduced to their lowest numbers since World War II. For Hampton Roads, this creates at least three major areas of concern.

“Defense spending is not expected to reach the levels projected in the five-year budget plan submitted by the President last year,” Hagel said Monday at the press conference.

Video: Full Chuck Hagel press conference

That plan does not ask the Navy to retire an aircraft carrier as previously reported. However, the USS George Washington’s future in the fleet is far from certain.

“… if sequestration spending levels remain in place in fiscal year 2016, she would need to be retired before her scheduled nuclear refueling and overhaul,” Hagel said.

That would leave the Navy with 10 carrier strike groups.

“Even though they’re politically trying to spin this as if they haven’t made the decision yet, if they’re not doing the advance procurement of materials and all for next year, if they’re cutting that spending out this year, it looks very much like [to us] they’ve made that decision,” said 4th District Congressman Randy Forbes.

A decision that Forbes says will have an immediate impact on the Hampton Roads Economy. Also impacting our local economy will be proposed cuts to military personnel pay and benefits, as well as the governments civilian workforce.

“Given the steps already taken to reduce civilian personnel costs, including a 3-year pay-freeze, no realistic effort to find further significant savings can avoid dealing with military compensation,” Hagel said.

Hagel expects some resistance in Congress on cuts in this area of the budget, and 2nd District Congressman Scott Rigell says he will fight the Administration on this.

“What I’ve heard across our district is this, from veterans and non-veterans alike, is that reforms do need to take place and we need to contain federal spending, but they’re not going to accept, nor am I, putting this on the back of our men and women who are already giving so much to keep our country safe,” Rigell said.

Personnel, pay and benefits aren’t the only things on the cutting board that will impact Hampton Roads. Infrastructure will also be reduced.

“… a call for another round of base realignment and closure (BRAC) in 2017,” said Criag Quigley, director of Hampton Roads Military Federal Facilities Alliance.

Hagel will present the full five-year plan to Congress on March 4. It will be part of the 2015 budget submitted to President Obama.

The bottom line for Hampton Roads — we are looking pretty good for the remainder of this year and 2015. But if Congress continues to struggle for a budget agreement beyond that, the sequestration axe could come down hard. And the fight on Capital Hill is far from over, according to some of our local congressmen.

After Hagel visits Hampton Roads this week, he will travel to Brussels to attend the NATO Defense Ministers Conference, Woog said.

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