With no apparent response to a letter they sent Feb. 28, the six members of Arkansas’ Congressional delegation again sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta requesting data behind the decision to remove the A-10 fighter mission from the Fort Smith-based 188th Fighter Wing.
The first letter asked Panetta to provide the info by March 12.
“We again communicate our concern with the Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 Department of Defense budget request to Congress, as well as with the Air Force’s proposed force structure changes,” noted the April 18 letter signed by U.S. Sens. John Boozman, R-Ark., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark.; and U.S. Reps. Rick Crawford, Tim Griffin, Mike Ross and Steve Womack.
Broad cuts in U.S. defense spending include the removal of the 20 A-10 Thunderbolt fighter plans from the 188th Fighter Wing in Fort Smith. The loss of the fighter mission is scheduled to be replaced with the unmanned Predator drone. The drones and intelligence specialists needed to analyze drone-driven data would not be based in Fort Smith.
Community officials and former 188th officials were concerned the lack of planes would result in deep job losses. The 188th now has about 1,000 personnel attached to the unit, with a little more than 300 in a full-time status. Initial estimates were that the full-time numbers could fall to around 55 with the new mission.
However, the Air Force changes 188th authorized personnel from 972 in fiscal year 2011 to 802 in fiscal year 2013 — far fewer job cuts than previously estimated by local officials.
Overall, the Air Force proposed reductions of 3,900 active-duty, 5,100 Air National Guard and 900 Air Force Reserve positions.
The April 18 letter also noted: “We have repeatedly asked to see the cost analysis used by the Air Force and the Department of Defense to develop the FY 2013 budget proposal. We have yet to receive this information. ... Again we ask to see this analysis and remind the Department that a primary duty of Congress is to provide oversight of the Executive Branch of our government. To accomplish this core function, Congress must have access to the data and information used by the Department to formulate recommendations and proposals.”
The delegation’s letter sets a new deadline of May 1.
Members of Arkansas’ Congressional delegation say they “strongly believe” the 188th decision “is not fiscally sound and will significantly affect joint training.”
A request has been made to conduct a Congressional field hearing in Fort Smith related to U.S. defense budget cuts that would change the mission of the 188th Fighter Wing, according to U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers. As of Friday (April 20), it remains uncertain if the field hearing schedule includes a stop in Fort Smith.
Womack said U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., initially lobbied for U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., to include Fort Smith on a planned series of Congressional field hearings related to security issues resulting from changes in the proposed defense budget cuts. Forbes, whose district includes significant military installations on the East Coast, is the chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on Readiness.
Link here to the (PDF) letter sent April 18 by the Congressional delegation.