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Posted at 6:10 PM ET, 11/23/2010

Virginia officials hear glimmer of hope on defense cuts

By Ben Pershing

Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell and most of the state's congressional delegation held a long-awaited meeting with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Tuesday, seeking to deflect what they see as the Pentagon's proposed double-barreled assault on Virginia's economy.

State officials have been in crisis mode since August, when Gates announced his intention to close the Norfolk-based Joint Forces Command, potentially costing the Hampton Roads region thousands of jobs. At the same time, Gates vowed to significantly cut the Pentagon's use of private contractors, which could have a major impact on Northern Virginia.

McDonnell (R) and the state's lawmakers have complained repeatedly that those proposals lacked transparency and empirical data to support them and for months had been seeking to meet with Gates to make their case. Their opportunity came Tuesday morning at the Pentagon, and Virginia officials emerged from the session mildly encouraged that the blow to the state could be softened.

"It will not be nearly as bad as has been predicted," Rep. James Moran (D-Va.) said of the impact on Hampton Roads, while Rep. Robert J. Wittman (R-Va.) suggested that "a fair portion" of the jobs at JFCOM would remain intact.

Mc­Don­nell, at various times, called the meeting "frank but respectful," "cordial" and "civil" and said he received a series of modest pledges from Gates. They included a promise that Virginia's Commission on Military and National Security Facilities will begin a "dialogue" with Gen. Ray Odierno, the commander of JFCOM, over the installation's future.

More important, the Virginia officials received positive signals that some JFCOM functions could remain where they are, particularly the modeling and simulation programs run in partnership with Old Dominion University.

"The jewel in the crown is modeling and simulation," said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), adding that he also hoped that U.S. allies could continue to use JFCOM as "a one-stop shop for their interface with the American military."

McDonnell acknowledged that the transformed installation might no longer be called JFCOM and that a range of outcomes is possible.

"It could be from a name change ... to a significant pare-back," he said, later adding: "Until the ink is dry, this is still a moving target."

By Ben Pershing  | November 23, 2010; 6:10 PM ET
Categories:  Ben Pershing, Robert F. McDonnell  
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