TAMPA — The chief of U.S. Central Command spent Friday reassuring Tampa Bay business and political leaders that cutting 1,100 jobs at his headquarters won't rattle the local economy.
Adm. William Fallon told them slashing the jobs at his MacDill Air Force Base offices is necessary but also more than offset by jobs created with ongoing base construction.
Fallon announced his resignation on Tuesday, effective March 31, after only a year on the job. Some say disagreement with President Bush over Middle East military strategy triggered the decision.
News of the CentCom cuts, first revealed on the St. Petersburg Times Web site, tampabay.com, came a day later and is not thought to have played a role in the resignation.
"He felt there was some streamlining that could be done and they could eliminate some positions, and with all the construction going on at MacDill, it would all make up for the impact," said Tampa developer Al Austin, one of a handful of people Fallon called.
MacDill is being transformed by $809-million in ongoing or planned construction, including a new $118-million CentCom headquarters and joint intelligence center.
Military leaders expect construction on base soon could exceed $1-billion, assuring the long-term existence of a base once close to being shuttered by the Pentagon.
In fact, amid news of the CentCom cuts, the House Armed Services Committee has announced that $9-million in cost overruns for a new headquarters for U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill would be covered. Now the total cost of that project is $36.3-million.
SOCom and CentCom coordinate the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, also received a call from Fallon on Friday. She said Fallon noted many of the cuts come with reservists and other staff who were not permanently assigned to CentCom.
"I was glad that he called because all the media reports have been so overblown and out of proportion," Castor said. "You cannot look at the restructuring of personnel at CentCom outside the context of growth at MacDill overall.
"When he became commander, he said he was surprised by the breadth of personnel at headquarters here, especially when compared to (CentCom) personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan," Castor said.
"The Department of Defense is known for its massive bureaucracy," she said. "Thank God we have a commanding officer looking to modernize and looking for efficiencies."
She said the admiral noted that his own personal security detail included 49 people.
Fallon ordered a reassessment of CentCom's personnel needs starting last June. The cuts began months ago and are expected to be finished in May. The admiral's goal was to cut a third of his staff — about 1,100 people.
A 2003 base study, the latest available, showed that MacDill's economic impact on Tampa Bay was $5.6-billion and it provided 134,000 direct and indirect jobs.
Those figures, the base says, are undoubtedly higher, especially since the military's expansion after the Sept. 11 attacks.
About 13,000 military personnel and civilians work at MacDill. And by the end of the summer, the base expects to complete the transfer of a new air wing from Michigan along with about 600 personnel.
But not all those people will work at MacDill full time.
William R. Levesque can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3436.