WASHINGTON - Senator Scott Brown’s office yesterday convened a meeting in Washington with defense industry leaders and staff members of fellow New England lawmakers to plot strategy on safeguarding Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford from looming military cuts.
The Massachusetts Republican, a member of the Armed Services Committee, is anticipating a tough battle ahead as fierce budget pressures force the Department of Defense to close or restructure military facilities across the country.
The meeting in Brown’s office came on the same day that Defense News, a trade newspaper, reported that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta today plans to propose two more rounds of base closures, one in 2013 and 2015, as part of a series of belt-tightening measures.
Congress would have to approve the move and establish an independent Base Realignment and Closure Commission to review all facilities and recommend which ones to scale back - as it last did in 2005.
At a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor this morning, Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, expressed support for such a move, especially if overseas installations get first priority.
“I have always supported BRAC, even though it is a tough sell,” said the Michigan Democrat.
In anticipation, New England lawmakers plan to pool their political clout to maintain what is now the only remaining major military facility in the region - while also building the case for smaller reserve facilities across New England.
Hanscom, which is home to the Air Force’s Electronic Systems Center, employs - either directly or indirectly - more than 30,000 people, according to Chris Anderson, president of the Massachusetts Defense Technology Initiative, an industry group.
“We have a good story to tell,” Anderson, who attended yesterday’s meeting, said this morning. “We just have to do a better job of telling it.”
According to a memo prepared by Brown’s staff, the bipartisan planning effort is intended to develop a strategy that will “further entrench the installation and keep valuable jobs in New England.”
It added: “...[W]e can all agree that it would be beneficial to Hanscom and greater [New England] to marry [the Pentagon’s] proposed solutions to its national security demands...with unique [New England] technology assets.”
Also invited to the Brown-sponsored meeting yesterday was Rich Byrne of Mitre Corporation, a federally-funded research center in Bedford, who has been tapped by Anderson to develop an outreach strategy for Hanscom.
Also invited were representatives for Senators John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts; Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, Republicans of Maine; Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, and Kelly Ayotte, a Republican of New Hampshire; Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, and Joseph Lieberman, an Independent of Connecticut; and Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island.
Also in attendance, according to Anderson, was a staffer for Rep. Niki Tsongas, a Democrat from Lowell and member of the House Armed Services Committee.
“Our best chance to prevail is with a regional approach,” he said.