As the federal government considers cuts to defense spending — about $500 billion over next nine years — the potential impact to San Diego’s economy has become a major topic of local concern.

Mayor Jerry Sanders and defense industry officials warn the cuts could put many out of work, and often describe the number of military jobs here to describe what employment losses could be at stake here.

One of the most common claims: “We have the largest concentration of military personnel of anywhere in the United States.”

Sanders used that national comparison while lobbying Congress last month to shelve the budget cuts. The claim has also appeared in reports about the local economy by business and military advocacy groups.

We decided to Fact Check the claim because it’s very common, and it’s a big reason why some argue that the cuts would hit our economy harder than other places.

We also wanted to test a new method of coverage. Rather than Fact Check a bunch of claims about different topics each month, we want to try to set themes over a period of time, allowing us to drill deeper into issues. This allows us to build expertise rather than just hop between topics.

For the next few weeks, I’m planning to focus on fact checking claims about the local military, veterans and the defense industry. Aside from our normal Fact Check format, I’ll be writing about ongoing research and instances where the truth is hard to determine.

So far, the national comparison of military personnel is one of those instances.

To compare personnel by location, a spokeswoman for the Department of Defense referred us to this online almanac. It reports the number of active personnel by military base, zip code and the nearest metropolitan area.

We decided to compare metropolitan areas — cities larger than 50,000 residents. When Sanders and others have made the claim, they have been referring to the military jobs across the region — not just at one military base or across a relatively small area like a zip code.

The most recent almanac appears to support San Diego’s position atop other metropolitan areas. In 2010, the Department of Defense reported employing about 93,000 active military personnel in the San Diego area. See the graphic below for a breakdown.

Though these figures appear to support the claim, we still don’t know if the overall comparison is accurate. The almanac doesn’t account for a crucial piece of information that we still need to find.

The figures only represent uniformed military personnel. They don’t include civilian employees — such as some clerical staff and researchers — who also receive Department of Defense paychecks and could be affected by the spending cuts.

We’re still working with military officials to see if the number of civilian employees is available and could be added to our national comparison. Hopefully we’ll have an answer in the next week.

In the meantime, it’s worth noting that how the cuts to defense spending would affect San Diego jobs is unclear. President Barack Obama hasn’t outlined exactly how they would be spread across the nation.

The cuts could spare San Diego or provide some benefit to the economy if other military functions are consolidated and relocated here. The military already has plans to boost its presence in the Pacific and San Diego is home to the nation’s Pacific fleet.

Two weeks ago, Congress pushed for more clarity. It approved legislation aimed at forcing the president to explain how the defense cuts would be rolled out. The New York Times said it didn’t know if the president would sign the legislation or risk Congress overriding his veto. He has 30 days to decide.

But last week, according to U.S. News & World Report, the president released at least one big detail in a memo to Congress. He promised to exempt cuts to uniformed military personnel, shifting more pressure to the civilian workforce and other parts of the budget like new equipment.

That latest revelation adds all the more reason to figure out how many civilian personnel are currently employed in San Diego and across the country.

Keegan Kyle is a news reporter for Voice of San Diego. He writes about local government, creates infographics and handles the Fact Check Blog. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at or 619.550.5668. You can also find him on Twitter (@keegankyle) and Facebook.

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