Monday’s announcement by Secretary of Defense Bob Gates that he will recommend closing Norfolk’s Joint Forces Command has brought bipartisan criticism from the Virginia delegation. Both Senators Webb and Warner have roundly condemned the move, and Governor McDonnell will be headlining a joint press conference Tuesday with Congressmen Glenn Nye, Randy Forbes, Rob Wittman and Bobby Scott to add their voices to the criticism. While I recognize the damage this will do to the Norfolk area, it’s difficult for those of us who have been pushing for spending cuts in government to criticize this move. If we are going to be serious about shrinking government and reducing the deficit, painful choices will have to be made, and this is one of them.
According to the Post, JFCOM employs almost 5,000 people with an annual payroll of over $200 million. It also controls over 1 million square feet of office space in Norfolk – likely costing at least another $50 million or so per year, although I have yet to see solid figures on exactly how much this move is designed to save. Regardless of how high the number is, it is clear that if we are going to get the deficit under control, it is going to have to require spending cuts across a variety of areas of the federal government, including the Defense Department. I know defense cuts are not popular, but it’s hard for anyone to believe that they aren’t necessary, and it’s even harder in this economy to justify not trimming areas that are underperforming, as a variety of analysts in the stories I’ve linked to have said JFCOM has been.
If we are going to get serious about cutting the federal deficit, we can’t cry when those cuts hurt us at home. Virginia has one of the largest percentages of federal employees in the country, much of them in uniform. Any major cuts to the federal workforce – especially in the defense arena – are likely to hit us harder. And while I don’t want to see any of my fellow Virginians out of a job in this economy, this is one situation where the good of the entire country has to outweigh the damage to the Commonwealth.
We Republicans should be careful in criticizing these cuts – especially our Congressional officials. I can understand why the Governor will be critical – he has to. That’s his job. But Congressmen Wittman and Forbes should be more circumspect in their criticism. Gates is merely doing what we’ve been demanding of this Administration for a while – identify places we can cut to reduce overall spending and help shrink the deficit.
If we complain about these cuts, we look hypocritical on spending – cut the budget, just don’t cut it in Virginia. That’s not the right attitude to have, especially considering that every state is going to have to make sacrifices if we are going to get spending under control. We know we have to take our lumps. Better to take them now and take the lead in fighting the spending than look like hypocrites for demanding cuts but not accepting them if they hit us in our backyards.
Gates’ move is a good start and if we’re going to be serious about fiscal conservatism, we should take our medicine and not complain.