Defense and aerospace companies launched an all-out offensive yesterday against any additional Pentagon budget cuts by a committee charged with reducing the federal deficit.
Marion Blakey, president and chief executive officer of the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) trade group, told reporters in Washington yesterday the new Second to None campaign won’t be a “typical…high-on-advertising, short-on-substance, short-term, inside-the-Beltway blitz which you often see…is often followed by a deafening silence after one piece of legislation or another is filed.”
Rolling out the campaign at the National Press Club along with five defense-industry executives, Blakey said the Second to None will be a “sustained effort” across the country to spread the word about the risks the industry sees with cutting the Pentagon budget and related funding for NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Blakey and a panel of executives–including AIA executive board members James Albaugh, president and chief executive officer for commercial airplanes at Boeing [BA], and David Hess, president of Pratt & Whitney [UTX]–emphasized yesterday the wide reach of the aerospace and defense industry, which Blakey said supports 1 million jobs. She said “hundreds of thousands” of American jobs are “at risk” if Congress agrees to more cuts.
“We want it (made) very clear that you cannot assume that the defense industrial base will be there if in fact there is no investment in (research and development) R&D, and there is…no significant investment going forward in acquisitions and new programs,” she said.
She said Second to None is encouraging people around the country to contract their elected representatives and ask them why they would support further cuts to the Pentagon budget, considering it supports American jobs and national security as well as troops and veterans.
“AIA and its member companies will speak out wherever we can, on the opinion pages, on television, radio, congressional events, anywhere that someone will listen,” she said. She could not share the price tag of the campaign, saying it involves a lot of “sweat equity” from AIA’s member companies.
Campaign members have already met with some members of the new 12-member Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, which was created by the Budget Control Act of 2011 that President Barack Obama signed on Aug. 2. The White House said the law cuts $350 billion in defense-related spending over the next decade. If the deficit committee, which held its first hearing this week, can’t come up with a plan to cut $1.5 trillion more that passes Congress by Dec. 23 additional cuts of $1.2 trillion will kick in, with half coming mainly from the Pentagon.
The Second to None campaign wants zero Pentagon cuts from the deficit committee, Blakey said.
Industry representatives have met recently with deficit committee members Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), panel members said yesterday at the Press Club. Blakey said AIA also has met in the past with panel co-chairman Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and member Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), both of whom are supportive of the defense industry. The Second to None campaign is encouraging defense companies to reach out to all members of Congress, because any plan devised by the deficit committee will need to be approved by the full House and Senate, Blakey said.
She said she senses support for national defense from lawmakers in meetings, but is concerned because the deficit committee is weighing other “extremely unpalatable” budget cuts and Pentagon spending has been slashed during past economic downturns.
“So in these discussions we’re trying to make sure that they understand that if you go into that trough and you go deep down like we did back in the ‘90s, it is extremely expensive to climb back up, and sometime (we) find you do not have the technology’s edge to do it,” she said.
AIA’s executive committee also met Tuesday with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in a meeting Blakey and Albaugh both described as “very good.”
“There’s no question of the secretary’s commitment to having ongoing dialogue with industry as we work through these tough budget challenges,” Blakey said. She said Panetta “expressed a very clear focus on protecting the U.S. defense industrial base, for both economic and national-security reasons.”
Panetta, she said, talked about the “critical need” to sustain the investment in Pentagon research and development “to keep America’s technological edge, and expressed a commitment to continue with export-control reform.
“America’s ability to export is one of the very bright spots in what’s a tough fiscal picture,” Blakey said. “His focus on what this means to our allies in the war on terror, as well as the overall health of our industry, was very reassuring.”
Albaugh said he sensed “good alignment” with Panetta during the meeting on matters including export-control reform, improving the efficiency of weapons programs, and the industrial base’s health.
Albaugh said he sees the aerospace and defense industry “at a crossroads,” noting the country currently cannot carry an astronaut to space on a U.S. rocket and no design teams are working on a manned aircraft for the Pentagon.
“I think it’s very ironic right now that there’s not enough talk about the industrial base,” he said. “There needs to be more.” Still, he added he thinks “the Pentagon feels as strongly about preserving the industrial base as we do.”