Space Coast Defense Alliance Council Chairmanby Eric Wright
Every decade seems to have a key word that is drawn from history or the wordsmiths to become a part of popular vocabulary. During the negotiations to end the Vietnam War it was “Détente.” Years passed and the new buzzword was “Gravitas,” (Latin for substantial or serious). The latest word that Americans are scrambling to the Internet to understand the meaning of is “Sequestration.” SpaceCoast Business sat down with Ron Cobb, Director of Strategic Programs at DRS Soneticom, and chairman of the Space Coast Defense Alliance, which is a council of the EDC of Florida’s Space Coast, to get an idea of what sequestration means and the impact it could have on our community and the nation.
SCB: Could you explain sequestration in a way that our readers could understand and the impact it could have on our county?
RC: Admittedly, it is a complex issue with many moving parts and I don’t want to over-simplify or minimize the challenges our Congressional delegation faces. But if I were to try to find an illustration, imagine asking your butcher to trim the fat off a beef loin you intend to purchase. What you would hope to get is a lighter, leaner piece of meat. But because the butcher is in a hurry, he simply takes his cleaver and chops the loin in half; basically that is sequestration.
RC: Yes, the bipartisan so-called ‘super committee’ was tasked with cutting $1.2 trillion from the federal budget over a 10-year period. To motivate them towards this goal, if they didn’t agree on those cuts, i.e. trim the fat, the cleaver of automatic, mandatory, across-the-board percentage cuts are instituted – sequestration. It was a gun to the head scenario because the result of this would be so unthinkable, lawmakers assumed an agreement would be reached. However, the finger is on the trigger, the countdown has begun, and no agreement has been reached.
SCB: What does this mean, particularly in Brevard?
RC: If Congress does not pass an alternative by January, it would drain more than $330 million from the Brevard County economy in 2013, according to the Center for Security Policy. The Aviation Industry Association estimates sequestration would cost the U.S. more than two million defense and nondefense jobs with almost 80,000 lost in Florida through fiscal year 2013. Sadly, almost 63 percent of those jobs – about 50,000 – would come from Brevard and Orange counties because of the concentration of aerospace work in this region.
SCB: This seems like a Doomsday scenario.
RC: It is. Patrick Air Force Base, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Brevard’s defense community will all be at risk if Congress doesn’t take action. We, I mean the county, local business leaders, the Commissioners, Brevard Workforce and the EDC have done a herculean job of whittling the unemployment rate from its peak of nearly 12 percent in January 2010 to the current 9 percent. A process like sequestration would produce massive layoffs, resulting in further damage to the Space Coast defense industry, with a ripple effect into the other support businesses and the workforce that it supports and supports it.
SCB: We heard a 3-to-1 ratio discussed when the Shuttle layoffs were imminent – that for every one Shuttle employee who was laid off two to three other jobs would be lost. Is this the same situation?
RC: We are talking about $500 billion in defense cuts nationally – it threatens our national economy and the security of our nation, not to mention the momentum our community has built through cooperation, innovation and diversification. All the progress we’ve made to close the unemployment gap, to retain our incredible workforce and build a diverse economy is jeopardized. I have said before, ‘Sequestration is not governing, it is enabling our elected representatives to sidestep leadership at a cost that is too great to allow.’
SCB: It has been reported in the news that many defense contractors are required by law to notify their employees of a layoff from a government contract job 60 days prior to termination. Will some issue those notices around the first of November?
RC: I have heard that as well, but it isn’t something I am qualified to speak on.
SCB: What should the business community and the citizens of Brevard do?
RC: They need to contact their representatives and press them to take action on this issue; it simply can’t be delayed for political purposes.