Last updated: August 24. 2013 12:38AM - 486 Views

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LIMA — The Wall Street Journal. Reuters. National Public Radio. NBC News. Some of the country’s media giants are paying attention to the efforts to keep the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center’s Abrams tank program running.



Mayor David Berger and General Dynamics Plant Manager Keith Deters say all the coverage is helpful, and they are focused on telling the unique story about the JSMC, the Abrams tank and the workers who build it.



Much of the coverage would be considered “good press” by those aiming to keep the Pentagon from shuttering the program, with a focus on Lima’s work ethic and a unique national security asset. Consider a May Reuters story:



“Lima prides itself on producing well-known American products: Tide detergent, Ford engines, and tanks that have symbolized American might in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. TV viewers know Lima as the setting of the popular show ‘Glee.’ ... Plant manager Keith Deters, who has done nearly every job [at the JSMC] since 1982, calls it the only place in America where you can bring in four-inch plates of steel, aluminum and titanium and drive out a finished tank.”



More recently, a new national narrative is emerging, of big-dollar corporate lobbying turning federal legislators who are otherwise budget hawks into supporters of spending money on tanks the Army says it doesn’t need.



The Center for Public Integrity released a report, with phrases such as “Vulnerable to IED’s but impervious to Pentagon budgeteers,” following the donations to lawmakers from General Dynamics, which operates the government-owned JSMC.



“The contractor is winning the battle, after a well-organized campaign of lobbying and political donations involving the lawmakers who sit on four key committees that will decide the tank’s fate, according to an analysis of spending and lobbying records by the Center for Public Integrity,” the report said. “Sharp spikes in the company’s donations — including a two-week period in 2011 when its employees and political action committee sent the lawmakers checks for their campaigns totaling nearly $50,000 — roughly coincided with five legislative milestones for the Abrams, including committee hearings and votes and the defense bill’s final passage last year.”



Deters said overall Task Force L.I.M.A., of which he and Berger co-chair, is pleased with the “groundswell” of news regarding the plant.



“It gives more people an understanding of what we do here,” Deters said. “It’s vitally important we get that message out. There is a lot of value to sustaining this facility and workforce, and technology we use. The Army has plans to use the tank through 2050. You need this facility.”



The task force and plant officials often accommodate national media and are not afraid to pitch stories with national news outlets.



The Pentagon is keeping the Abrams in its long-term plans, but it says it has enough for the near term and wants to shutter the program for a few years. General Dynamics, the task force and a large, bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House and Senate say the cost to close the program and bring it back up is more than the Army has calculated, and in the meantime would permanently harm the program by dismantling the industrial base the builds the tank.



In the latest round of coverage, reporters are using the fight between the Pentagon and Congress to highlight the difficulty the Pentagon has in ending programs it no longer wants, because defense contractor jobs are spread in key states and fought for on both sides of the aisle. It also is a preview of what’s to come with sequestration, the automatic across-the-board government cuts coming because of Congress’ failure to achieve a deficit reduction plan.



At the most recent task force meeting, Berger referred to “allegations” in the Center for Public Integrity’s report, and said he didn’t buy the argument that lobbyists’ cash is all that matters.



“Criticizing corporate contributions and lobbying, that support is a natural place for critics to go, but I would say this is a highly unusual situation, with the bipartisan support as strong as it is,” Berger said. “If lobbying dollars is all it took to accomplish that, then it would be a much more broad instance. We keep going with the strategy of getting people here. When they see, touch and feel, it’s a good argument against thinking you can just shut it down and turn in back on.”






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