The Pentagon recommended Monday moving an aircraft carrier from Virginia to Florida, angering Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., who questions whether a retired admiral who lobbies for Jacksonville exerted unfair influence on the decision.
Retired admiral Robert Natter, who is also a paid adviser for the Navy, said he had nothing to do with the recommendation that the Navy move the carrier. The recommendation, part of a long-range strategy review, says moving the carrier to Mayport, Fla., will limit the risk that a terrorist attack, natural disaster or accident could cripple the eastern carrier fleet, which is based in Norfolk,Va. The review maps out threats the Pentagon anticipates and its plans to meet them.
Webb, a former secretary of the Navy, has questioned whether Natter met with officials who took part in the Pentagon's strategy review. In December, Webb wrote a letter to the Pentagon asking about Natter's role in the carrier decision and cited a Nov. 18 USA TODAY report that cited Senate lobbying records that showed Natter received $1.5 million as a lobbyist for Florida from 2004 to 2006 on base-closing decisions. The Pentagon has not yet answered Webb's letter, according to Jessica Smith, a spokeswoman for Webb.
Webb said Monday that moving a carrier to Mayport made no financial sense and that the proposal "was not a done deal." He has said the move could cost up to $1 billion.
Natter's lobbying firm, Senate records show, was paid $60,000 last year to lobby Congress, the Navy and Defense Department on "military issues impacting the Jacksonville, Fla., metropolitan area." Natter called any assertion that he lobbied the Navy on the Mayport decision "unfounded."
Natter, a board member of weapons maker BAE Systems, has also advised the military as a "senior mentor." USA TODAY reported that military mentors, usually retired generals and admirals, have been paid hundreds of dollars per hour while earning from defense companies and collecting pensions of as much as $220,000 per year.
Jan van Tol, a retired Navy captain and military analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said the argument for two East Coast bases was made in the 1980s when the Soviet Union could have destroyed the East Coast fleet by attacking Norfolk. "I'm hard put to imagine the equivalent (threat) today," van Tol said.