WASHINGTON — In 2005, Task Force LIMA successfully lobbied with Congress and the Pentagon against closing the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center.
The group is hoping for the same kind of result after a day trip to the nation’s capital Thursday. The task force, chaired by Mayor David Berger, met with members of the Ohio delegation in Congress and multiple officials at the Pentagon.
The group is trying to close a window during which the Pentagon wants to temporarily shut down the Abrams tank program at the JSMC. The group made progress on the front, Berger said after a day of four meetings on Capitol Hill and four meetings at the Pentagon.
“They were positive, productive meetings. I believe there’s a sense at the Pentagon that the argument of maintaining the industrial base is beginning to be recognized as having real validity,” Berger said.
The task force has some good timing. Berger didn’t know it when scheduling the lobbying trip, but on Monday the JSMC will host a group of high-level procurement officials from the Army and General Dynamics, which operates the government-owned facility. General Dynamics is not commenting on the visit, but Berger confirmed the high level of the visitors, including one who met with the task force Thursday.
Task force members made personal connections with decision-makers, Berger said, and the task force continued to issue invites to tour the plant. It’s been an effective way to lobby the cause and gain an understanding of the workforce and technology used on the Abrams program.
The Pentagon wants to shut down the Abrams program from 2014 to 2017 because officials believe they have enough tanks and want to save money. A bipartisan group in Congress and a local task force, headed by Berger, have argued shuttering the program temporarily and bringing it back up would actually cost more money than keeping the line warm with minimal production.
Temporarily shuttering the Abrams program would mean the closure of the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center, where the tanks are retrofitted, Berger said. That would mean the loss of the expert workforce and leave the Abrams supply chain vulnerable, most likely including closing some parts manufacturers. Re-establishing that would be costly, eating up any savings from the shuttering, and in some cases not possible, Berger has said.
A study by the Rand Corp. funded by the Army put the cost of shutting and reopening the Abrams program at significantly less than the task force, General Dynamics and members of Congress have estimated.
Congress has inserted money into the defense budget for the minimal production. That work, along with foreign sales productions for Israel and Saudi Arabia and other smaller projects, is keeping the plant open.
U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Cincinnati, was one of the members of Congress to meet the group. The Army plans to keep the current fleet of Abrams tanks in use for at least another 40 years while repeatedly modernizing it with new capabilities over time, Portman said.
“What’s at stake is not just employment for the highly skilled workers at JSMC,” said Portman. “Also at stake is the existence of small businesses across the country with thousands of skilled employees supplying unique parts and services that support the tank program and other defense systems. There’s no certainty that those capabilities can be recreated when the Army says they need them if they’re left to disappear now.”