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Despite Record Defense Spending Layoffs Starting to Mount

The Obama Administration submitted its 2012 budget to Congress yesterday and it contains a record request for defense funding. This includes over a $100 billion to conduct operations in Afghanistan and Iraq while continuing the investment in new equipment to improve capabilities against other threats. Despite this and due to the cyclical nature of defense programs and spending several companies, large and small, announced recently a restructuring of their workforces.  As the U.S. defense budget adjusts to fiscal reality and requirement changes more companies may be in this situation.

Defense acquisition programs tend to be built in large quantities over a span of several years as the military attempts to field its needs quickly. This can lead to a requirement for a contractor to ramp up facilities, staff and production very quickly and then just as quickly cut it back as the U.S. military meets its requirements. It behooves a contractor to identify other customers or programs that it may support to try and maintain a steady production line and workforce. This is not always possible and the history of the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle production in America illustrates this as several companies invested in large plants that are now running at a much lower capacity as the U.S. has met its needs for the MRAP.

Recent layoff announcements include:

Stories like this may accelerate in the near future as companies figure out what will be needed by the Defense Department in a time of reducing budgets.  At the same time there are other defense contractors who need to hire people to support their new work or programs.  Many times, though, the new company is not located near places where the layoffs are happening so that transferring people may not be so easy.

The history of the U.S. defense budget has been cycles of rapid, large expenditures followed by years of smaller budgets.  The U.S. may be entering a period of extended decline in defense spending with a negative effect on the defense contracting industry.

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