Republican U.S. Senate candidate George Allen spoke Tuesday with more than 20 representatives of government contractors of all sizes about the looming $500 billion in defense cuts under the auspices of sequestration.
Allen, who is in a dead heat with Democrat Tim Kaine in a race that could decide which party controls the Senate, also took a few pointers on his own plan — particularly when it comes to shortening the terms of government contracts.
Businesses could spend anywhere from $100,000 to $1 million on a proposal, the contractors said, which eats away at the bottom line and can be a deterrent from working with the government in the first place. The group was concerned about their ability to recoup such costs and making sure contract lengths were long enough to be worthwhile.
"Point taken," Allen said.
On sequestration, Allen has said the Senate should act on a plan passed by the U.S. House — and Tuesday called that "a good starting point."
That plan, authored by Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, restores pending defense cuts by taking funds from Medicaid, school-lunch subsidies and other social safety net programs.
"It's a starting point. It is not perfect. What I would do is make some changes to it insofar as what they do, for example, with Medicare, and I'd get the revenue in from energy," Allen said in a brief interview.
"We'd have to look at all of (the safety net programs) and see the criteria and needs for them. But the point is if there's some modifications, it depends on how much money you get in from energy."
Allen worked his energy policy, which includes seeking oil and natural gas off of Virginia's coastline, and his support for comprehensive tax reform — he would like to give people the option of choosing a flat tax — into answers on a broad range of topics from the contractors.
One question they asked was about the federal WARN, or the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification, Act, which requires most employers to give 60-day notification in advance of plant closings or mass layoffs. Several Washington-area contractors have have held off on such notices after being told by the White House that their liability would be covered by the federal government, according to the Washington Post and numerous other outlets.
Allen said that was "not proper governance" and added that the threat of sequestration already is hurting small contractors and the commercial real estate market.
"This is compounding failed leadership," he said. Allen said he would "not tell people to violate the law and the taxpayers will pick it up" and added the appropriations needed to cover such liability would have a "hard time" getting through Congress.
Regarding the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, which has already moved jobs out of Arlington, Allen said pointedly: "I would push back against another BRAC round."
Allen, a former senator, said his seniority could help Virginia and that he would be a "No. 1 draft pick" when, if elected, it comes to committee assignments. He said he wanted to be on the Armed Service Committee, along with the Energy and Commerce committees.
Afterward, Allen called the day "a confirmation of a lot of what I've been hearing on the trail."
"You learn more by listening. So, it was a good validation of the beneficial aspects of what I'm advocating to protect jobs in Virginia — and, moreover, protect jobs. There's a lot of notes here that I've taken that I will use. And it's beneficial for me to listen and be accessible and get the insight of the people who are on the front lines."
Camber Corp., a Huntsville, Ala.-based defense contractor, hosted Tuesday's roundtable discussion at its Rosslyn office. Camber Vice President of Government Relations Walt Sasser said the company had never done anything like that before. He said the company wasn't trying to endorse a candidate, but to have a dialogue. He added: "But we really like what we heard today."
Sasser said the roundtable happened after several Northern Virginia contractors read the points Allen had talked about on sequestration and, in general, the future of the defense industry and procurement reform. Some points were "pretty good," he said. Others, like potentially shortening the length of government contracts, not so much.
"To bring industry folks together to be able to have that discussion, to us, was important — and to be listened to. This issue of cost, of competing for work, and how do you recover that cost? That part was really exciting," Sasser told Patch. "It was nice to have a conversation. We don't get to do that. We're not lobbyists. We're out in the trenches. So to be able to do that was pretty cool."
This article has been edited to clarify past statements Allen has made about sequestration.