Riverside County supervisors next week will debate whether to establish an Office of Military and Defense Services to identify strategies for protecting the county's two remaining military installations from closure and increasing federal contracting opportunities.
Supervisors Marion Ashley and John Tavaglione are slated to introduce the concept during the Board of Supervisors' regular meeting Tuesday, recommending that the new OMDS be a branch of the Economic Development Agency.
EDA Public Information Officer Tom Freeman, who doubles as the county's foreign trade commissioner, was a career U.S. Air Force serviceman and also reached the rank of colonel in the California National Guard.
It wasn't immediately clear whether Ashley or Tavaglione had him in mind to manage the new office, provided it's established.
According to documents posted to the board's policy agenda, the defense services office would be chiefly focused on confronting the prospect of another round of Base Realignment and Closure -- BRAC -- initiatives.
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.
"It is in the economic interest of our county and its 28 cities to protect these bases from another BRAC process to the best of our ability, and to ensure we are making every effort to grow local contracting opportunities within the county," Ashley and Tavaglione wrote in their proposal. "Thousands of direct jobs are created by these two installations for our local and regional workforce."
According to the supervisors, 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," Ashley and Tavaglione stated.
They said the proposed OMDS would be responsible for cultivating relationships between area businesses and "major defense contractors" in the interest of securing roles as suppliers of goods and services.
—City News Service.