EL PASO, Texas (AP) — West Texas officials said Friday they plan to meet with Pentagon leaders and members of Congress in Washington next week in an effort to spare Fort Bliss from the automatic federal budget cuts that officials say would greatly impact the local economy.
A study by the University of Texas-El Paso's Institute for Policy and Economic Development shows the base and adjacent medical center have a $5.9 billion economic impact and creates nearly 62,000 jobs with more than $4 billion in compensation to area households. The study was done last month for the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce.
"It's not chump change," Rick Glancey, the chamber's military forces division chairman, said at a news conference Friday at the chamber's offices in downtown El Paso.
Glancey said the chamber plans to meet with members of Congress from Texas and New Mexico as well as "two- and three-star rank generals" in the Pentagon to make the case for Fort Bliss and adjacent military installations in New Mexico such as Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo and Las Cruces' White Sands Missile Range.
Tom Thomas, the civilian aide to the Secretary of the Army for West Texas, said he is optimistic about the outcome of their lobbying efforts.
"When you face a trillion dollar cuts in ten years, everybody's going to take a hit. But I think we'll come out as good or better as any installation in the country," he said after the news conference.
Maj. Joe Buccino, Fort Bliss' public information officer, highlighted a statistic from the report that said the base accounts for 11 percent of the jobs in the area and 16 percent of its economy. The event was not attended by high-ranking military officers.
"We will not bring a different message to D.C. The facts are very clear," El Paso Mayor John Cook said.
He also recalled that when a cavalry unit moved from Fort Bliss to Fort Collins, Colo., in the mid-1990s, about 7,000 people left El Paso in a matter of weeks.
"It had a ripple effect, small businesses closed, gangs moved into empty houses," Cook added.