In a joint press release, both senators and three House members praised a renewed commitment from Secretary of the Air Force Michael P. Donley to retain the mission of the Electronic Systems Center, where cutting edge electronics and computer research is conducted.
The Air Force made the pledge in a letter responding to several inquiries by members of the Bay State delegation expressing concern about the impact to the Bedford base of an unfolding Air Force reorganization.
The letter “confirms that the core electronics and cyber warfare missions at the base will not be affected by the ongoing Air Force reorganization process,” Senator John F. Kerry said in a statement.
The letter from Donley -- which was addressed to Kerry, Senator Scott P. Brown and Representatives Edward Markey, Niki Tsongas, and John Tierney -- stated that “no core missions performed at Hanscom Air Force Base today are being realigned.”
In releasing a copy, Kerry said the “commitment to the mission of Hanscom Air Force Base means that Massachusetts will continue to play a leading role in our nation’s national defense, cyber security, and air superiority.”
But despite the Air Force pledge, the service still intends to go ahead later this year with a plan to place the Hanscom weapons research center under the command of another organization in Ohio, in the process demoting the rank of the base’s top officer from a three-star to a two-star general.
The Air Force also is still moving ahead with plans to shave several hundred positions from the civilian workforce at the base, while also substantially cutting its funding for private contract workers provided by local firms.
Indeed, as congressional aides acknowledged Monday, the Air Force never had any plans to reduce the base’s mission in the first place.
“This is about messaging,” acknowledged one aide who has worked on the issue, admitting that the Donley letter changes nothing.
The lawmakers, however, still hope the base will be able retain its three-star commander.
If adopted, amendments that have been included in defense spending bills by Brown and Tsongas would require the Air Force to retain the current structure pending further study or approval from Congress. But those bills might not be approved before the Air Force plan takes effect.
Brown took to the Senate floor late Monday to underscore the point that the fight is far from over.
“The elimination of the ESC commander position at Hanscom will diminish our cyber capabilities and focus across the entire force,” Brown said in prepared remarks.”We have stated our position clearly: The Air Force should not move forward with any force structure changes at Hanscom until Congress has the opportunity to review what our appropriate force structure mix should be, particularly as it relates to cyber security.”
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Here is a link to the letter.
And here is a statement from Sen. John F. Kerry and other members of the delegation:
BOSTON – Senators John Kerry and Scott Brown, along with Representatives Edward Markey, Niki Tsongas, and John Tierney, today received a letter from Michael B. Donley, the Secretary of the Air Force, in response to the senator’s request for assurances that the core mission performed at Hanscom Air Force Base will not change as a result of ongoing base realignments.
Kerry and the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation have written two letters and have long urged Department of Defense and Pentagon officials to maintain Hanscom’s ranking even in the face of possible defense cuts and reorganization. Most recently, both the House and the Senate included provisions in their respective Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to delay the implementation of the recent Air Force reorganization plans, including the proposed changes at Hanscom.
Secretary Donley confirmed to Kerry in today’s letter that “Importantly, no core missions performed at Hanscom Air Force Base today are being realigned.”
“We spoke with the Secretary on Friday and he reiterated that the mission at Hanscom would not change and today he made that point in writing,” said Sen. Kerry. “His letter confirms that the core electronics and cyber warfare missions at the base will not be affected by the ongoing Air Force reorganization process. I’m disappointed by the change in leadership status, but these assurances go a long way in helping us expand our unique cyber and electronic capabilities moving forward.”
“I am disappointed the Air Force has decided to ignore bipartisan, bicameral congressional intent to keep in place senior leadership at the Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom Air Force Base,” said Sen. Brown. “Both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees passed amendments to retain three-star leadership at Hanscom until the Air Force provides more information about how its proposed leadership restructuring would impact national security. With Congress set to pass a Defense Authorization bill that reinforces the critical role Hanscom plays in our cyber security framework, the Air Force should put these plans on hold.”
“Secretary Donley's commitment to the mission of Hanscom Air Force Base means that Massachusetts will continue to play a leading role in our nation's national defense, cyber security, and air superiority,” said Rep. Markey. “I will continue to advocate on behalf of the airmen, scientists, engineers and extraordinary intellectual and technical assets who are working to ensure our national security every single day."
“The commitment that Secretary Donely has shown to Hanscom today reflects its continued importance to our military as well as the strong bipartisan support for Hanscom’s mission that was demonstrated by Congress last month,” said Rep. Tsongas. “Hanscom is supported by the universities and innovative high-tech institutions that are unique to Massachusetts, which has helped our military to confront threats in a cost effective manner and the Air Force has made clear that this mutually beneficial relationship will continue in the future. In the months and years ahead, I will continue fighting to preserve and expand Hanscom’s mission.”
“I appreciate Secretary Donley's confirmation that Hanscom's core missions are not being realigned as part of this proposed reorganization and am pleased he shares the Massachusetts Delegation's view about Hanscom's vital importance in 'meeting the growing electronics and cyber warfare challenges’,” said Rep. Tierney. “Moving forward, I will continue to work with others in the delegation to ensure that Hanscom continues to retain its important place in our security efforts.”