Lobbyist: Local Cuts in Military Unlikely

Despite budget talk, Hirsch doesn’t see any major local cuts soon

Though the scissors are out in Washington, D.C., as lawmakers and leaders focus on budget reductions, including cuts of $100 billion in defense spending over the next five years, the outlook is upbeat regarding Brevard’s military installations.

That’s the view from the Capitol courtesy of Paul Hirsch, president of the D.C.-based lobbying groupMadison Government Affairs. For more than a decade, Hirsch and his firm have worked with the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast to represent Brevard’s military interests, centered on Patrick Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

(That meant, in the mid-2000s, helping guide the Space Coast through the Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, proceedings. While many communities were devastated by closures, both military installations in Brevard escaped unscathed.)

During a recent trip to Brevard, where Hirsch updated the EDC board at the agency’s quarterly meeting, he sat for an interview with FLORIDA TODAY. Here’s that discussion.

QUESTION: Are defense cuts on their way?

HIRSCH: Secretary Gates is in the process of identifying over $100 billion of savings and cuts that he will then plow back into the budget. In reality, in real dollars over the next three years, the Department of Defense budget grows by about 3 or 4 percent even with the reductions.

Now, that’s his plan and the Obama administration plan. But we have a new House of Representatives that was sworn in on Jan. 5 and they’re talking about budget reductions, and Speaker John Boehner has said there are no sacred cows, everything is on the table.

Q: So what’s the bottom line?

HIRSCH: My personal opinion is that I don’t think defense will sustain any major overall budget reductions in the next three or four years.

Q: But why is that? The atmosphere seems to be for budget reductions in all sectors?

HIRSCH: We’ve got a war in Afghanistan. We’ve got a draw-down in Iraq. We have international commitments. So I don’t see the budget decreasing. There will be different emphasis on international commitments and the things that we’re doing to combat terrorism.

Q: Who is going to play a key role in the U.S. House of Representatives as far as funding for places like Patrick and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station?

HIRSCH: Bill Young (R-Largo) is chairman of the Defense Appropriations Committee and he’s from Central Florida. He has been a great advocate for the men and women in uniform. I feel really good that Congressman Young is there.

Q: So Rep. Young will be good for the Space Coast and Central Florida?

HIRSCH: It was tremendously good news that he was named chairman. Obviously, if he were named chairman of the appropriations committee it would be even better. But the defense appropriations job, in my mind, is probably the most important subcommittee on appropriations in the House.

Q: You and your firm were heavily involved in ensuring Patrick stayed open during the BRAC hearings in 2004. What is the outlook for Patrick and other Brevard military installations now?

HIRSCH: I think commercial space in regard to Cape Canaveral Air Force Stations will see increased activity. You’re going to see rejuvenation of the Eastern Test Range infrastructure. I think you’ll see more unmanned aerial vehicles — all the military services are big on UAVs. From that standpoint, the Patrick Air Force Base complex is in good shape when it comes to a future BRAC round.

Q: Does the area offer any more selling points as far as the military is concerned?

HIRSCH: Obviously military value is the most important thing when looking at military bases in a BRAC round but there are a lot things taken into consideration.

One is: What kind of quality of life the service men and women and their families will have in the location. Overall, I think Patrick’s in a good position.

Q: How important is the relationship between the non-military community and the military installations when the military looks at adding programs or cutting back?

HIRSCH: There are not any community issues here that you might see at other locations around the country. This is a community that recognizes the value of not only the military base presence and the economic activity but they recognize the value of the people that serve here. That goes a long way when the Pentagon looks at base closures and realignments.

Q: What are the local economic reverberations of a base closure or even reduced spending to a military facility?

HIRSCH: For every military or civil service job you lose on a military base or installation, you can see about three jobs in the community going away. That’s support jobs, groceries, the barber shop, department store. All those kind of jobs go away.

Q: Would you describe Brevard County as a military community or is it more diversified?

HIRSCH: I think there is diversity here. There are a lot of defense institutions here — DRS, Harris, just to name two. It’s a community focused on defense and space, and we all know what’s going to happen in the next couple of years with regards to space.

A closure or major realignment of Patrick would have an effect. But I don’t see that happening here. The EDC and elected officials have really worked hard post-2005 BRAC to make sure that PAFB and the complex from a military value standpoint is 100 percent.

Q: Will the end of the shuttle program take away Brevard’s prestige in Washington?

HIRSCH: It’s a little outside the box for me to talk about space but obviously when you lose something as prestigious to the American people as a manned space program, even if it’s only temporary, it’s going to hurt.

But there’s a lot of things going on at Cape Canaveral with trying to increase commercial space activity that obviously is significant, and will become more significant as time goes on.

Q: How does your firm go about working to enlarge and enhance Brevard’s military interests?

HIRSCH: Here is the first thing we do: We make this the most enticing, wonderful place to move missions or accommodate missions. From a military standpoint, there’s no encroachment here.

There’s a good work force here. There are a lot of good flying days here. It has a lot going for it from a military-value standpoint. You have to start with good foundation, and the foundation is that Patrick Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is a great place to add missions.

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