Sen. Bob Corker talks with BAE employees Allen Cross and Chip Zimmerman. Photo by Ned Jilton II.
KINGSPORT — BAE Systems officials courted U.S. Sen. Bob Corker’s help Friday in continuing to upgrade facilities at the Holston Army Ammunition Plant (HAAP).
“Today we tried to let him know a little bit about what we do at Holston and what our contributions are to the war fighter,” Jerry Hammonds, BAE vice president and general manager, told less than 50 government and BAE employees about their visit with Corker. “I think he will go away with a level of knowledge about us that will help him as he makes decisions that affect this plant, this company, and our state and country.”
Corker, a Tennessee Republican, got an abbreviated tour of the 6,000-acre munitions plant which has supplied explosives for the U.S. military since its establishment in World War II. BAE is HAAP’s operating contractor.
Corker told the group of employees that he had “no idea” of the role HAAP plays in national security. HAAP is the sole manufacturer of HMX- and RDX-based explosives in the country.
Corker added that BAE’s staff would need to walk him through “things that need to be done” to modernize HAAP and keep it competitive.
Specific capital items or accompanying dollar figures were not discussed publicly.
“This is an essential facility as it relates to our national security,” Corker said of HAAP. “I think once you’re here you understand how important it is from the standpoint of not just jobs in East Tennessee but making sure our country is in a position to secure itself.”
Reporters were asked by a HAAP official to refrain from asking any questions “that could be construed as political in nature as those activities are strictly prohibited on federal installations.”
But Corker has taken actions lately focusing on tightening federal spending. He recently voted against the economic stimulus package providing rebates to millions of taxpayers, and he has called on Congress to get on a “path toward better fiscal discipline.”
He has also announced his support for legislation to implement a one-year suspension on congressional earmarks.
Corker was asked how HAAP will be in a position to get continued federal funding if federal budget earmarks — items slipped into appropriations bills by lawmakers — are set aside.
“Some of the things coming up here (at HAAP) are going to be very, very large-ticket items and more difficult to fund and yet essential to keep the facility productive,” Corker responded. “But earmarking is a gnat, and the big issues are entitlements (like Medicare and Social Security).”
Corker said BAE officials would “much prefer” that HAAP receive funding on a competitive, rather than political, basis.
“What earmarking does is take them out of a competitive basis and causes them to have to rely on influence to get things done,” Corker said. “An operation like this would much rather see a line item in the (federal) budget that focuses on munitions and lets them compete for that on merit.”
For more about Corker, go to www.corker.senate.gov.