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April 26, 2012—Members of Congress seem to agree that the Defense Department's offer to retain more Air National Guard personnel and assets than originally planned in Fiscal 2013 is a positive step forward, though the indications are that they want even more relief for the Air Guard.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta sent a letter to the leading congressional defense overseers on April 23 offering to retain 24 C-130s originally targeted to leave the Air Guard starting next fiscal year. This move is meant to help ensure that the Air Guard maintains its ability to support the states in domestic emergencies. Panetta's proposal came in response to a plan put forth by the Council of Governors to reverse some of the proposed Air Guard cuts in Fiscal 2013 due to concerns like that.

Panetta's letter did not specify what units would get to keep airplanes or how the Air Force would pay to retain those aircraft.

"The 24 additional C-130s that Secretary Panetta is recommending for the Air National Guard represent progress toward restoring some proportionality to the Air Force's proposed budget," stated Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, in a release.

Levin noted that Panetta's "recommendation would reverse more than 40 percent of the personnel reductions to the Air National Guard initially proposed by the Air Force." The service leadership had called for shedding 5,100 Air Guard personnel in Fiscal 2013 as part of a larger cut of 9,900 airmen across the Total Force.

In a separate release, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D), Senate National Guard Caucus co-chair, called Panetta's proposal a "constructive step forward in our ongoing negotiations." However, he said the Air Force still "has failed to meet the governors in the middle of the personnel cuts."

Leahy added: "No deal is likely until the Air Force is prepared to make roughly equal manpower cuts to the Guard and the Active Duty force as a proportion of each component's overall end strength."

Air Force leaders have said the service has cut more from the Active Duty component over the last 10 years than it has from the reserve components. Consequently, the Air Force has reached a point where any additional Active Duty cuts beyond the 3,900 proposed in Fiscal 2013 would negatively impact readiness, according to these officials. (For more on this, see Seeking a Total Force Balance from Air Force Magazine's April issue.)

Leahy said he cannot make any "final conclusions" until he receives more details regarding the Panetta's proposal, as promised to him by Gen. Philip Breedlove, Air Force vice chief of staff, according to the senator's release.

"After missteps at the starting line, we are now moving in the right direction to solve this," said Leahy. "As long as both sides show a willingness to talk about how we can move forward and forge a workable compromise, Congress can avoid having to step in with binding legislation to resolve it."

None of the House defense committees had released a statement on Panetta's proposal, nor had any senior House leader, as of the evening of April 25 East Coast time.

A House staffer told the Daily Report that the immediate focus is on finishing mark-ups to the Fiscal 2013 defense authorization bill. However, the staffer did say the legislators are concerned since the Defense Department has yet to clearly spell out how it intends to cover the cost to retain the 24 C-130s.

The Council of Governors welcomed the Pentagon's proposal, which the council is now reviewing, and said it is committed to continue working with Congress and DOD on this issue.