WASHINGTON -- Massachusetts lawmakers on Monday declared a small victory in their efforts to protect Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford from downsizing efforts.
In a joint press release, both senators and three House members praised a renewed commitment from Secretary of the Air Force Michael P. Donley to retain the mission of the Electronic Systems Center, where cutting edge electronics and computer research is conducted.
The Air Force made the pledge in a letter responding to several inquiries by members of the Bay State delegation expressing concern about the impact to the Bedford base of an unfolding Air Force reorganization.
The letter “confirms that the core electronics and cyber warfare missions at the base will not be affected by the ongoing Air Force reorganization process,” Senator John F. Kerry said in a statement.
The letter from Donley -- which was addressed to Kerry, Senator Scott P. Brown and Representatives Edward Markey, Niki Tsongas, and John Tierney -- stated that “no core missions performed at Hanscom Air Force Base today are being realigned.”
Markey said the “commitment to the mission of Hanscom Air Force Base means that Massachusetts will continue to play a leading role in our nation’s national defense, cyber security, and air superiority.”
But despite the Air Force pledge, the service still intends to go ahead later this year with a plan to place the Hanscom weapons research center under the command of another organization in Ohio, in the process demoting the rank of the base’s top officer from a three-star to a two-star general.
The Air Force also is still moving ahead with plans to shave several hundred positions from the civilian workforce at the base, while also substantially cutting its funding for private contract workers provided by local firms.
Indeed, as congressional aides acknowledged Monday, the Air Force never had any plans to reduce the base’s mission in the first place.
“This is about messaging,” acknowledged one aide who has worked on the issue, admitting that the Donley letter changes nothing.
The lawmakers, however, still hope the base will be able retain its three-star commander.
If adopted, amendments that have been included in defense spending bills by Brown and Tsongas would require the Air Force to retain the current structure pending further study or approval from Congress. But those bills might not be approved before the Air Force plan takes effect.
Brown took to the Senate floor late Monday to underscore the point that the fight is far from over.
“The elimination of the ESC commander position at Hanscom will diminish our cyber capabilities and focus across the entire force,” Brown said in prepared remarks.”We have stated our position clearly: The Air Force should not move forward with any force structure changes at Hanscom until Congress has the opportunity to review what our appropriate force structure mix should be, particularly as it relates to cyber security.”