Virginia faces $1.4B loss under planned Navy cuts
By BILL BARTEL | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: January 26, 2013
HAMPTON ROADS, Va. — If Congress doesn't intervene, the Navy would reduce its spending in Virginia by $1.4 billion, including canceling $271 million in ship repairs in Hampton Roads, cutting more than 1,000 temporary workers and deferring construction on an aircraft carrier it plans to buy.
In total, the Navy is planning for $4.6 billion in budget cuts over the next eight months that would affect operations across the United States. But the cuts would be most severe in Virginia, according to analysis of the documents released Friday by the Navy's top admiral.
Among the cuts being considered in Virginia are:
- Canceling about $270 million in maintenance work on eight destroyers, an amphibious assault ship and the carrier Eisenhower that had been planned between April and September.
- Cutting 1,121 temporary civilian workers and freezing civilian hires to save $100 million.
- Reducing ship operations and flying hours to save $670 million.
- Deferring $100 million intended for four naval construction projects, including one in Norfolk and one in Virginia Beach.
- Cutting base operation and support by $90 million.
- Cutting in half funds for fleet restoration and modernization, saving $98 million.
Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations, met Friday with sailors at Norfolk Naval Station. Greenert told reporters that if Congress doesn't provide more funds or give the Navy authority to shift money around, the cuts will eventually hurt readiness.
All third- and fourth-quarter maintenance for Norfolk-based planes would be canceled under the scenario Greenert laid out. He said commanders would have to dial back ship and aircraft training time to support sailors already deployed.
"You reduce training, and you reduce readiness in the future. That's my concern," Greenert said.
The cuts became necessary after a politically divided Congress failed to approve a 2013 budget. It has temporarily agreed to operate until March 27 under the 2012 budget, which gives the Navy $4.6 billion less money than anticipated.
Congress has to decide by then whether to increase the Pentagon's budget or hold it to last year's level. If lawmakers do nothing, the government would shut down all but essential functions.
Greenert sent Navy flag officers a memo Thursday telling them to begin making reductions now in case Congress doesn't increase their funding. On Friday, Greenert's staff provided more specifics on what would be cut.
U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, who opposes cutting military spending and has urged the Pentagon for months to provide specifics on possible cuts, expressed frustration Friday that the Navy has waited until now to release details.
"It's very late in the game," said the Chesapeake Republican, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee. "Every day gets more complicated, not less complicated.... All these things start backing up."
Separate from the budget issue are concerns over about $1 trillion in automatic budget cuts - known as sequestration - set to begin March 1. The cuts, divided between military and domestic spending and spread over 10 years, will take effect in March unless Congress intercedes.
If it happens, Greenert said, the Navy will have to find an additional $4 billion in reductions for 2013. In that case, it would eliminate operations in the Caribbean and around South America, reduce patrols in the Middle East and scale back deployments to the Mediterranean.
Closer to home, $166 million in emergency ship repairs in Hampton Roads would be canceled, and most civilian Navy employees would be required to take 22 days of unpaid leave.
Greenert said sequestration "is a real possibility. We're preparing accordingly."
Forbes said it's unclear how Congress might resolve either spending issue. He was critical of the Senate for failing to approve a defense budget, noting that the House did so last year.
Forbes acknowledged that the Navy cuts would have major repercussions in Hampton Roads, where almost half the economy is dependent on defense-related work.
But there's also a larger concern, he said, that the military reduction could harm national security.
"What you're seeing right now is what is going to happen economically," Forbes said. "What you're not seeing yet is what's happening strategically to the national defense of this country.... It's huge."
Navy brass are worried, too - and they say that even if Congress reverses some of the cuts, there could be lingering effects.
Said one Navy official at the Pentagon who wasn't authorized to speak on the record: "We're not going to be able to turn this thing on a dime once it is fixed. It's going to take a while for the Navy to normalize, and for industry to normalize."
Pilot reporters Mike Hixenbaugh and Kate Wiltrout contributed to this report.