TOBYHANNA —A variety of members of the business, political and private sectors have banded together once again to show a unified front in support of the region’s largest employer.
The Blue Ribbon Task Force will meet Monday at 1 p.m. to formulate a plan to defend the Tobyhanna Army Depot against federal budget cuts or potential closure. The group, which was created in 1995 and has been reactivated and put into dormancy numerous times since, has been reactivated in light of proposed cuts in defense spending and as the Afghanistan war winds down.
President Barack Obama’s defense budget proposal includes a request for another round of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process in fiscal year 2017, according to the Department of Defense. BRAC seeks to cut infrastructure costs by closing bases identified as unnecessary.
The depot was spared during BRAC cuts in 1995 and 2005, though other regions weren’t so lucky. But their loss was Northeastern Pennsylvania’s gain as workers were transferred from other facilities such as California’s McClellan Air Force Base to Tobyhanna.
But as war efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere wind down or are scaled back, defense contract work is too.
With 3,500 employees, the Monroe County-based depot is the largest full-service electronics maintenance facility in the Department of Defense.
With a $2.8 billion regional economic impact annually, according to the Northeastern Pennsylvania Alliance, the loss of the depot could be catastrophic to the region’s unemployment rate — already the worse in the state for close to four years — and economy as a whole.
Mike Carroll, D-Avoca, praised the coming together of numerous interested parties to stand behind the region’s largest employer.
“In anticipation of the possibility of another round of BRAC, I’m delighted to know the business, political and community leaders of Northeastern Pennsylvania are taking a proactive approach to highlighting the outstanding productivity and economic importance of the Tobyhanna Army Depot in our region. It is critical we as a region clearly and boldly illustrate the extraordinary productivity of the Tobyhanna workforce and the need to protect these critical jobs.”
The depot has taken its own steps to scale back on its workforce through retirement incentives, letting contracted employees go and other means. Much of it was due to knowing war efforts were scaling down but also because of the government sequestration that went into effect last year and led to budget issues.
One-third of the staff, or about 1,700 employees, has been cut over the last two years, according to Ed Mickley, the public affairs officer for the Depot.
The depot now plans to cut about 150 more employees through early retirement incentives by April 30.
Between March and June 2013, at least 310 government workers accepted early-retirement packages, Mickley said.
State Sen. John Blake, D-Archbald, whose district includes the depot, lauded the decision to pull the task force out of moth balls.
“When BRAC rounds are undertaken by the Department of Defense, the military and civilian leadership at our military installations are often required by law not to disclose or discuss the circumstances surrounding BRAC with any outside source. As such, the Blue Ribbon Task Force will occupy an important role in working with the governor’s (Military Community Protection Commission) to assure Tobyhanna Depot’s story can be conveyed to the appropriate authorities, including federal hearings during a BRAC process,” said Blake, who serves as co-chair of the Legislative Military Installations & Base Development Committee and is a legislative appointed to the Governor’s MCPC.