ORLANDO, Fla. — U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said Friday he has asked military brass in Washington for a briefing on why the Army's Orlando training and simulation agency recently killed a multibillion-dollar program that offered the potential of lucrative work for Central Florida contractors.
Nelson, a senior member of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, said he was as blindsided as local defense contractors were by the Army agency's cancellation of the TEACH program, a series of education-related training contracts expected to be worth more than $5 billion over 10 years.
It was the first major action by the Orlando agency's top executive, Maj. Gen. Jon Maddux, who replaced longtime chief James T. Blake last month.
Nelson said he plans to meet with the secretary of the Army and the Army's acquisitions chief to find out why Maddux and the agency unexpectedly scuttled the initiative after it was in development for years and spurred some local companies to expand.
"I've gone to his bosses to get an explanation," said Nelson, D-Fla. "I want some answers why a program of this magnitude and importance was cancelled without even notifying a senior member of the Senate Armed Forces Committee."
The Army's Orlando training command terminated the program earlier this week, before industry bidding on the work even began. The Army said its action was part of a reassessment of its training mission requirements but provided no more details. Some of the education work is expected to continue for an unspecified time, but long-term funding is uncertain.
Nelson said he wants to assure local defense contractors that the action was not part of some bigger plan to undermine Central Florida's military training industry, which is considered the nation's largest.
He noted that his committee has already passed the authorization bill for next year's defense budget, which will come before Congress for approval in July. Nelson said he would consider introducing an amendment or some other measure to the budget to prevent the program from being canceled.
"If I don't get some satisfactory answers, we're going to put a stop to this when the defense bill comes to the floor," he said. "I don't like it one bit that someone is going behind my back on a defense program like this that is so important to the country."