By Chuck Crumbo
Published March 15, 2013
The South Carolina Military Task Force is getting new marching orders.
Since its formation in 2003, the task force has been chaired by the Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom, who’s a retired Navy captain.
The executive order reconstituting the task force, which Haley signed March 7, calls for the governor to appoint a chairman from among five at-large members that will be named to the panel. According to a funding document filed with the House Ways and Means Committee, the order will take effect July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.
Placing the task force under Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt highlights the impact of the military on the South Carolina economy. The move also could help the agency’s efforts to recruit military contractors and suppliers to South Carolina.
A study, which the Commerce Department did for the task force, found that the military accounts for $15.7 billion in annual economic impact and supports nearly 140,000 jobs in South Carolina.
The study covered direct and indirect spending by the Department of Defense for personnel, equipment and infrastructure at the state’s eight military installations, the S.C. National Guard and some 900 defense contractors that have facilities in the state.
Eckstrom “feels like this is a sound move because of the economic impact that the military has in South Carolina,” said Eric Ward, spokesman for the Comptroller General’s office.
Eckstrom also believes that moving the task force to the Commerce Department will provide the panel with “the kind of expanded reach and staff that it really needs,” Ward said.
“Secretary Hitt has said we need to look at military installations as a large industry,” said retired Air Force Maj. Gen. William “Dutch” Holland, who is the task force’s executive coordinator. “I think it’s a good fit to have the task force under Commerce.”
The task force, which coordinated the state’s efforts to survive and even gain new missions during the 2005 round of base closings, could face a greater challenge due to sequestration and tighter Pentagon budgets.
Sequestration, which calls for automatic, across-the-board spending cuts, could trim up to $600 billion from the Defense Department budget over the next 10 years. That’s on top of $489 billion the Defense Department has agreed to trim from its budget over the next 10 years.
South Carolina leaders have warned the state could lose 14,000 jobs over the next decade if Congress doesn’t put the brakes to sequestration.
Most experts expect that some of the cuts will be achieved through another round of base closings, commonly referred to as BRAC for Base Realignment and Closure.
Just last week, Eckstrom announced that the Legislature approved $200,000 to support the state’s military communities — Beaufort Charleston, Columbia and Sumter — in their efforts to preserve and grow their bases. Each community received $50,000.
Besides the Commerce Department, the new panel will have representatives from local base task forces and the S.C. National Guard.
Representatives of the governor’s Office of Veterans Affairs and the S.C. Chamber of Commerce also will serve on the 26-member task force.
The executive order also calls for the governor to appoint one member to represent the Legislature and five at-large members from the state’s military communities who have served as a senior military leader, expertise in economic development, operating a military base, defense contracting, environmental issues, finance and local government.
One of the at-large members will be appointed chairman by the governor.