Covering all their bases * State's military labs could see major changes.

March 21, 1991|By Stacey Evers | Stacey Evers,States News Service

WASHINGTON -- Some of Maryland's 13 military laboratories will learn next month if the Pentagon will close them or consolidate them with another lab, government and military officials say.

While some Maryland labs, such as the David Taylor Research Center in Annapolis and Bethesda, may be on the Pentagon's hit list, others may be selected as consolidation centers, the officials say. Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County is being considered by Army officials as a consolidation center.

The list is far from final, with the first draft expected to go to Defense Secretary Richard Cheney April 11. It is to go to President Bush by July 1 and to Congress by July 15.

Some officials, including the 10 members of Maryland's congressional delegation, say research, development and testing centers should not be included in the 1991 round of recommended closings. Officials say the Pentagon should wait until 1993, after an advisory panel reviewing the lab system proposes how to streamline operation of the facilities.

As part of its streamlining effort, the Defense Department intends to close or consolidate as many as one-third of its 76 laboratories in the next six years, according to the Congressional Research Service. Part of the Library of Congress, the service conducts research exclusively for the legislature.

The Army intends to close or consolidate Harry Diamond Laboratory in Adelphi and the Chemical Research, Development and Evaluation Center at Aberdeen, according to a January Congressional Research Service report based on interviews with military officials.

The report also cites the Navy's David Taylor Research Center as a facility targeted for closure or merger with another facility.

But the report says that the Naval Surface Warfare Center in White Oak and Dahlgren, Va., as well as the Army's Human Engineering Laboratory and Ballistic Research Laboratory, both at Aberdeen, will not be on the hit list.

While military officials say they are not ready to discuss which labs are more vulnerable than others, local and lab officials say they have reason to believe the report.

Among the most concerned are Anne Arundel County officials, who fear the Navy will close Taylor. About 1,000 people work at the Annapolis site with another 2,800 employed at the Carderock facility in Montgomery County. Only about 60 of the workers are military -- the remainder are civilians.

One reason for concern is a decreased military emphasis on submarines, said Sam Minnitte, director of the Anne Arundel County Office of Economic Development. The Taylor center, which primarily designs ships, is noted for its successful efforts to develop quiet submarines, said lab spokesman Jim Scott.

Minnitte said that the politics of both the military and the government baffle him, adding that he isn't sure how to lobby to keep the lab off the Pentagon list. "We feel very impotent on this issue because we just don't know where to turn on it. The [Defense Department's]) just this big thing without a face," he said.

In addition, Minnitte said, he isn't able to garner any support from the residents and business community, who believe the lab is immune to the Pentagon ax.

"They think that because we have the Naval Academy, the Defense Department has a warm, soft spot for Annapolis. No. Wrongo," he said. "That's not the way it's going to be this time. This time it's for real."

Harford County Executive Eileen Rehrmann is much more optimistic about the future of Aberdeen.

The site is considered a leading candidate, along with a site in Huntsville, Ala., to be the Army's east coast consolidation center, which will be called the Combat Materiels Research Laboratory, Rehrmann said. Winning the headquarters means winning a minimum of 2,200 jobs, she said.

Aberdeen officials confirmed that the facility has already been referred to as "CMRL." Dave Davison, a spokesman for the Army Lab Command, confirmed that Aberdeen is being considered as a possible headquarters site.

Aberdeen also would house the Army Laboratory Command, which now oversees seven labs, including the human engineering and ballistic research centers already at Aberdeen. The 281-employee command center is now at Harry Diamond.

The Army may not make a decision for three years, Rehrmann said. But based on her discussions with military officials, she said "no threat" for closure or transfer faces the proving ground.

But just to cover their bases, the Harford County Council Tuesday passed a resolution asking the Defense Department to omit the ballistics and human engineering labs from the 1991 list of recommended base closings.

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