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With automatic, across-the-board federal budget cuts slated to begin next January, defense industry leaders warned of deep wounds to America's backbone if Congress fails to act to avoid the roughly $1 trillion in reductions.
At a rally Monday in Crystal City, Va., some Northern Virginia-based defense contractors said the mandatory cuts, which will take effect if Congress doesn't craft an alternative budget-cutting package, would cost millions of American jobs and ripple across the entire economy.
More than 200 people, many employed by the contractors, attended the 1½-hour event.
Wes Bush, CEO of the leading unmanned aircraft manufacturer Northrop Grumman Corp., said sequestration could hurt both the nation's defense and non-defense sectors by causing massive layoffs, including in such fields as air traffic controllers and government inspectors.
According to a recent study by the Aerospace Industries Association, which represents major U.S. aerospace and defense companies, sequestration could cost more than 2.1 million jobs nationwide and increase the unemployment rate by up to 1.5 percent.
Sequestration "is an irrational approach to solve our budget problem and will have negative impacts in the long term," said Bush, "It damages our ability to attract and maintain the brightest minds in aerospace and defense industries."
"All the debate about the budget cuts gets very personal because it affects real people," said John Jumper, CEO of Science Applications International Corp. Jumper said 10,000 of 40,000 SAIC employees are veterans, and many have disabilities. The company also hires 1,000 new veterans each year.
Jumper said sequestration could curb the company's key research and development projects such as new technology to locate improvised explosive devices.
"Sequestration will certainly impact the innovation pipeline," echoed Brad Antle, CEO of Salient Federal Solutions, LLC, "It will damage our nation's ability to compete."
Salient Federal Solutions hires 1,100 employees who provide information technology and engineering services to the U.S. national security community. Antle said that as a mid-size technology company, Salient Federal Solutions is more vulnerable to budget cuts.
Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce President Jim Corcoran said he understands the necessity of making budget cuts, but insisted the cuts should not be made "on the back of the defense industry".
"Many of these companies aren't household names that you know or you see on newspaper," said Corcoran. "Yet these companies employ hundreds of thousands of people in Virginia and millions across the country. They are going to be affected."
While talks in Congress on how to avoid sequestration are still in limbo, leaders from both parties are calling for consensus.
"It is difficult to find a solution, but there is a solution," said Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., "This is what you do as a family. We need to come together in a bipartisan way and put everything on the table."
"For the sake of the country, can we not come together and get something done for the American people?" added Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., "This is not rocket science."