Rep. Sander “Sandy” Levin was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1982.  Congressman Levin represents Michigan residents and businesses in the 9th Congressional District, including the major U.S. Army assets of TACOM and TARDEC, better known as the Detroit Arsenal.

The Detroit Arsenal in Warren, Michigan has a storied history as the “Arsenal of Democracy” during World War II, when it churned out tanks and armaments—the tools needed by the Allied Forces to secure victory.  The Detroit Arsenal continues that tradition to the present day, serving as both an economic anchor in the region and an essential military asset in support of our warfighters.  Home to the U.S. Army TACOM Life Cycle Management Command (LCMC), contracting, and the Army’s Center of Excellence for land systems, the Arsenal also hosts Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC).  In all, the Arsenal directly employs more than 8,000 mostly civilian members of our community.

Prior to the New Year, Congress passed a budget agreement that included financial relief for the Pentagon in fiscal year (FY) 2014.  Congress has since returned to Washington and must now finalize a spending bill for the remainder of the fiscal year, using the budget deal as a guide.  Both the budget agreement and the subsequent funding bill will have implications for the Detroit Arsenal and the Defense Department overall.

The Michigan Defense Center turns to Congressman Levin to better understand these issues and how they will affect our Michigan defense community.

Defense spending looks to be one of the beneficiaries of the recent budget agreement.  Can you tell us more on how the deal impacts defense?

While imperfect, the budget agreement did take some positive steps toward relieving pressure on defense accounts in FY2014, including the elimination of arbitrary across-the-board cuts that were set to occur on January 15.  It did so by providing $22 billion above the spending levels that were locked into prior law, which actually allows for a slight increase in spending compared to FY2013.  This will help the Services budget appropriately—using strategy as the primary driver rather than fiscal constraints.

So the budget deal provided some financial relief.  But equally important is eliminating the uncertainty that has plagued the Pentagon—indeed all federal agencies—because of Congress’ failure to enact spending bills on time.  The use of stop-gap funding measures creates uncertainty that reverberates from the highest defense planners to program offices and down to suppliers.  Currently, Congress is working to craft an “omnibus” appropriations bill to fund the government for the remainder of FY2014 and hopefully end that uncertainty.

How will these budget decisions impact the Arsenal’s mission and the residents of Southeast Michigan?

It’s difficult to say specifically how the budget deal will impact TACOM because the Pentagon is waiting on the enactment of FY2014 appropriations before finalizing its budget decisions.  However, the additional funding will likely be used to restore readiness and ramp up sustainment activities, hopefully including a significant plus-up for TACOM depot maintenance.  With the drawdown from Afghanistan in full swing, adequate funding for reset is essential.

As for contracting, the budget deal’s spending levels will support the Army’s acquisition and modernization priorities across the range of platforms within the Arsenal’s Program Executive Offices.  In turn, this will help maintain Southeast Michigan’s defense industrial base, which, as we all know, is unequaled in terms of talent and experience.

Under current law (the Budget Control Act of 2011) defense spending (like all federal spending) will continue to shrink.  What are your primary concerns as the Pentagon adjusts to life with more limited resources?

I share the confidence expressed by senior civilian and military leaders that even with smaller budgets as mandated by the BCA, the Department of Defense will be able to carry out its mission while avoiding unacceptable risk.  But we are in a very dynamic time—new threats and missions, new requirements, force structure realignments, and end strength reductions, to name only a few.

Over this period, I intend to focus on a number of key areas of concern: the health of the defense industrial base, specifically smaller suppliers; ensuring adequate funding for critical ground combat systems; the protection of essential R&D accounts (which too often are first to see the budget axe), particularly TARDEC work on combat vehicles and automotive technologies, advanced materials, and energy efficiency; and ensuring that current and former military personnel continue to receive the compensation, benefits and health care they deserve.

Do you have any advice for Michigan businesses currently engaged in or looking to get into defense or homeland security contracting?

Southeast Michigan boasts a unique blend of automotive, manufacturing, engineering and technological assets.  During my visits to area businesses that do defense work, I’m always struck by the critical capabilities they bring to the table.

I would encourage businesses interested in defense contracting to avail themselves of a number of helpful resources, including local Procurement Technical Assistance Centers, the Michigan Defense Center, and prime contractor small business/subcontractor outreach offices.  Businesses should also feel comfortable reaching out directly to Department of Defense program and contract personnel; TACOM and TARDEC officials strive to build collaborative relationships.  Finally, interested businesses can read the Services’ budget submissions, the Pentagon’s strategic guidance, and Congressional defense policy and spending bills.  This publically available information will provide insight into where the Department of Defense is heading and how companies can align their capabilities accordingly.