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Offense on Defense

The News Herald - November 4, 2012

If tourism is the fuel that powers Florida’s economic engine, the military is the motor oil that keeps things running smoothly. The state’s 20 military installations provide a $60 billion economic impact and contribute 686,000 jobs. That’s especially relevant in Northwest Florida, including Bay County, which is home to Tyndall Air Force Base and Naval Support Activity Panama City.

Gov. Rick Scott has said Florida is the most military-friendly state in the union — and he intends to keep it that way. His strategy to cultivate a healthy defense economy is to go on offense.

With the governor’s support, the Legislature in 2011 created the Florida Defense Support Task Force, a group designed to increase military operations in the state as well as identify potential threats to keeping bases (among its members is Tom Neubauer, president of the Bay Defense Alliance). The strategy initially was designed to prepare Florida for the next round of the federal Base Realignment and Closure process. The last was in 2005, but Washington can’t agree on when the next one will occur.

The state also faces the more imminent threat of sequestration, part of the 2011 federal budget deal that calls for more that $50 billion in annual cuts in military spending that would be imposed Jan. 15 if Congress and the president cannot agree to alter it.

Last week, the task force released a nine-page summary (tinyurl.com/d3tcoq2) of a 991-page study assembled by consultant The Spectrum Group at a cost of $1.48 million. It broadly outlines actions that should be taken at the national and state levels to protect military installations. Preventing “encroachment” of development outside bases was a common issue.

The report indicates that Tyndall requires help at the federal level to:

? Advocate for Tyndall’s tenant commands including the Air and Space Operations Center.

? Advocate for increased missions/aircraft.

? Prevent potential encroachment in the Gulf Range Complex.

It also recommends that NSA PC requires federal help assisting the local defense community in securing funds to ensure permanent control of an 8-acre tract acquired to prevent future encroachment, enhance security and provide for mission expansion.

That parcel, and how it was acquired by the county for $2.9 million in 2010, was a hot topic in the Republican primary for County Commission District 5 last summer. Neubauer previously has said that funding for the Navy to purchase the land from the county is included in the omnibus military spending bill, which currently is laying dormant in Congress.

At the state level, the Navy base must:

? Protect Navy ranges used for Research, Development, Test, Evaluation and training.

? Advocate for continued Navy emphasis on mine and littoral warfare and Littoral Combat Ship development.

? Complete implementation of the Joint Land Use Study and adjacent land acquisition project to ensure merging commercial and military activities can each meet their objectives.

If you’re looking for more details, good luck. The entire 991-page study was made exempt from public records laws by an act of the Legislature. Officials say they don’t want other states to know the vulnerabilities of certain bases, as they could use that information against Florida to protect their own installations. There’s a question, though, of just who has access to the full document. When the task force held a closed-door session on it last week at Eglin Air Force Base, the meeting reportedly was attended by military officials, politicians … and economic development boosters.

Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, an open-government advocacy group in Florida, said that if the report was given to someone not on the task force, it might be arguable that the task force has waived the Sunshine Law exemption.

Public money is being spent on an issue of public interest. The state should be careful not to cut corners on public-records laws.

It’s good that Florida is presenting a united front to defend a vital economic interest. Last week’s summary gives a glimpse of some of the challenges.

 

To view this article at the source publication, go to http://www.newsherald.com/opinions/editorials/offense-on-defense-1.42720.

The information above is for general awareness only and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Office of Economic Adjustment or the Department of Defense as a whole.