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Tuesday, Apr 24, 2018
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Shutdown causing pain and collateral damage to our defense community

On behalf of our Tampa Bay area community, the Tampa Bay Defense Alliance, the Tampa Bay Partnership, our chambers of commerce, economic development corporations and our military support organizations, we must champion an end to the devastating and unpredictable government inaction that has led to the current shutdown.

We call for the finger pointing to stop — for leadership to look out the window at what’s happening in the real world, to work together, and for Congress and our president to embrace our military and our nation.

This shutdown is the latest in a long series of constraining measures imposed on our military and defense community. Years of continuing resolutions, defense budget cuts, the addition of sequestration, the scars of furloughs and an uncertain future darkened by unpredictability will impact future readiness, devastate morale and stop economic development. The effects of these consequences could very well jeopardize our national security and, ultimately, the freedoms we cherish.

Foremost in our hearts are our people. Our entire military community, encompassing active-duty military, the National Guard and Reserve forces, as well as civilians and retired veterans and their families, is precious. While being recalled to work — for now — the stress, financial strains and ever-present uncertainty have and are taking a tremendous toll.

Fold in our defense small businesses that are facing the prospects of bankruptcy due to contract suspensions, the scope of work reductions, termination of contracts and rate reductions, and our Tampa Bay defense community is shaken and fractured.

The compounding impacts of these budget crises here in the Tampa Bay area are cataclysmic and no doubt emblematic across Florida and our nation. Closures, curtailments and suspension of services all burden and demoralize the people we depend upon to serve and protect us. We should not underestimate the human toll.

Of the 2,000 civilian employees at MacDill Air Force Base, 1,500 were furloughed, with lost salaries totaling $400,000 per day. As a legacy of cumulative cost reduction measures, many of these families were already living from paycheck to paycheck. The impacts of six previous furlough days, added to the financial stress of making payments for mortgages, car loans, gas and credit cards, are driving them to the breaking point.

Consider the impact on an individual military member’s credit rating when a car or mortgage payment is missed. The shutdown has closed the commissary, increasing the cost of necessities such as food by 25 percent. Guard and Reserve members are not being paid. Guard and Reserve Unit Training Assemblies are being cancelled, training deferred, and even military members in personal education courses are being warned to consider withdrawing from courses because tuition assistance is unlikely to be paid.

On the business front, since Oct. 1 about $9 million in contracts have been delayed or face termination — with the possibility of an additional $20 million in contracts in question.

Contract administration is grinding to a halt, with furloughing of auditors to process invoices, and security clearances not being processed. We are facing a breakdown of the entire support apparatus that enables small businesses to provide critical services and products to our defense community. Some individuals and businesses may never recover.

In response to the government shutdown, the Tampa Bay defense community is rallying to support our military families and small businesses. Joining together in “Operation Embrace,” we are committed to creating an economic bridge of options and practical relief for those in our military and defense businesses who are suffering hardships.

Operation Embrace is a historic coming together of our region of eight counties. The first phase will focus on finance and utilities. Senior leaders representing banking and power companies have all pledged to help mitigate the pressures of these budget crises.

The response from our community has been positively overwhelming. This week you will see the launch of a Tampa Bay regional Web network, a one-stop, responsive portal dedicated to providing support information and relief services from the region’s financial firms and utility companies. In parallel, our chambers of commerce are launching a complementary website listing additional support, including reduced rates and customized specials for military families, courtesy of our restaurant partners.

Representative support services offered by the Tampa Bay area’s banks and credit unions include immediate cash needs, reduced rates and/or credit extensions, bridge loans, mortgage relief, credit card relief, and forgiveness of fees (late fees, overdraft), and skipped payments.

We need our congressional leadership to rise up and demonstrate a greater willingness to understand and respond to the collateral damage being caused to our military infrastructures and readiness. We need you to recognize the pain that has been inflicted on families, particularly our civilian military personnel.

Security, our freedom and the welfare of our military families are paramount. Please end this embarrassing and increasingly damaging impasse and put our government back to work.

We also stand ready to provide whatever support may be necessary to assist our elected officials in actively managing the steps to recovery.

With respect, your leadership is needed now.

John R. Schueler, a former Tampa Tribune executive, is president of the Tampa Bay Defense Alliance, which is focused on the long-term future stability and growth of MacDill Air Force Base. This is an edited version of a letter sent to U.S. Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, and Representatives Kathy Castor, Bill Young, Dennis Ross, Gus Bilirakis, Tom Rooney and Vern Buchanan.

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