Riverside County supervisors Tuesday approved establishing an Office of Military and Defense Services to identify strategies for preserving the area's two remaining military installations and increasing federal contracting opportunities for local businesses.
Supervisors Marion Ashley and John Tavaglione introduced the concept, recommending that the new OMDS be a branch of the Economic Development Agency. With Tavaglione out sick, Ashley led discussion of the issue during the Board of Supervisors' policy agenda.
"Military contracts and contacts are vital to this county's economic interest and jobs," Ashley said. "We need to defend our local and regional military organizations. There's a lot of talk about cutting back defense. It may not be a threat this year because of the elections. But it will be really serious after that. We have to be prepared."
According to documents posted by the supervisors, the defense services office would be chiefly focused on confronting the prospect of another round of Base Realignment and Closure -- BRAC -- moves.
The Obama administration has broached the issue under plans to further slash defense spending. The current proposed Pentagon budget falls just shy of $500 billion and would cut troop strength to pre-World War II levels, according to published reports.
The last BRAC was in 2005 and did not directly impact Riverside County. However, during a nationwide deactivation of bases in the early and mid-1990s, March Air Force Base was downsized to a reserve facility, with two-thirds of the installation shut down and made available for civilian use.
The Naval Surface Warfare Center in Norco has survived each of the BRACs, but county officials have expressed fears recently that the facility may end up on the chopping block.
"I'm particularly concerned about the warfare center," said Supervisor John Benoit. "It will be an important task for our new office to convey, well and concisely, the need for this facility. You're talking about thousands of jobs, and high-skilled labor."
According to Ashley and Tavaglione, Department of Defense records indicate around 900 county-based businesses received $5.1 billion in defense contracts over the last 12 years.
"Small and medium-sized businesses benefited from those contracts, and those orders meant jobs for our workforce," county documents stated.
According to Ashley and Tavaglione, the OMDS would be responsible for cultivating relationships between area businesses and "major defense contractors" in the interest of securing supply agreements.
– City News Service.