By: Gene Rector
The Warner Robins Patriot
Sequestration and defense budget cuts were the elephants in the room Wednesday morning as the tenth annual Robins Air Force Base Requirements Symposium kicked off at the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter in Perry.
Some 900 registrants are attending the two-day conference including representatives from defense corporations across the U.S. and Canada. The symposium, sponsored by the base and the Robins Area Chamber of Commerce, offers contractors an opportunity to learn more about current and future requirements at the local installation. Robins contracts for more than $5 billion in goods and services each year.
Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., told the assembly that the lame duck Congress set to convene in Washington D.C. has some 30 work days to deal with sequestration. The Budget Control Act of 2011 directed $500 billion in national security cuts over the next ten years if Congress is not able to agree on alternative savings by Jan. 2. The move would add to the $487 billion in cuts already directed by the Obama administration.
“We have to cut spending and we should have done it yesterday,” Scott said, referring to the nation’s more than $16 trillion debt. “That national debt makes us vulnerable to other countries.”
But the Eighth District congressman argued that putting people back to work rather than creating defense industry unemployment was a far better option.
“Laying off people who are working to support those who are not working is going in the wrong direction,” Scott stressed.
Even if sequestration is avoided, there will be additional defense cuts, the congressman indicated.
“We are going to have to change the way we operate,” he told the mix of contractor, military and Defense Department civilians. Scott said he hoped military leaders would be given the flexibility to make the cuts rather than reductions being imposed by Congress.
Lt. Gen. Bruce Litchfield, commander of Air Force Materiel Command’s new Air Force Sustainment Center, agreed that even if sequestration goes away additional cuts are coming.
“No one is saying no cuts,” he told the Perry crowd. “So we need to get through the turbulence and get to the new norm on other side.”
He stressed that efficiency, productivity and lowering costs are vital for the command’s sustainment operation, including the repair, overhaul and modification workload at the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex at Robins.
“Sustainment costs are going up at a rate that’s unsustainable,” he said. “And the cost of readiness will determine the size of the Air Force … and the size of the Air Force will determine whether we win the war.”
He said the newly structured command – including the Air Force Life Cycle Center headed by Lt. Gen. C.D. Moore – was working hard to change how the Air Force operates and sustains weapon systems.
“We’re six months away from seeing some phenomenal results and we need to work together to drive down costs,” he told defense contractors. “We have a great opportunity to leverage the strengths of private industry going forward.”
Brig. Gen. Cedric George, commander of the Warner Robins ALC, told the Agricenter crowd the principal purpose for the symposium was to “confront the new norm” of declining defense budgets and the necessity of finding more efficient, less costly ways to do business.
George, who has commanded the local complex since July, said he had three main objectives.
“The first is to never let us go back to where people ask if we can deliver on our promises,” he said. The general noted that on-time delivery of overhauled aircraft had dropped to 47 percent at Robins just 18 months ago.
“Right now, we’re at 98 percent,” he said.
The other two objectives are to gain efficiency and improve performance. “In the past, we were effective but not always efficient,” he conceded. “We have to adjust to the new norm or we will be irrelevant.”
The symposium continued Wednesday afternoon with 44 breakout sessions offering detailed information on a broad range of pending and future contracting opportunities. The sessions will continue throughout the day on Thursday.
Dan Penny, who heads the registration committee for the chamber’s Aerospace Industry Council, said this year’s attendance underscores the symposium’s importance as a viable place to do business.
“It gives vendors an opportunity to see what is available and what they have to do to meet base requirements,” Penny pointed out. “It also give the base an opportunity to look at multiple vendors and get the best buy for the taxpayer.”
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