Navy blocks base official's testimony

May 16, 1991|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Navy has forbidden the director of a St. Mary's County naval testing facility from testifying next week in favor of keeping the operation open, leaving local community leaders worried they have lost a key advocate in trying to save more than 1,000 jobs.

The Naval Electronics Systems Engineering Activity at St. Inigoes is slated for closure under the Pentagon's base realignment and closure list. Robert E. Waxman, executive director of the base, was chosen by community leaders and members of the Maryland congressional delegation to be one of two advocates for NESEA at a hearing next week in Philadelphia.

Asked to comment on the decision, Mr. Waxman said, "I'm not authorized to think." He said he will comply with the ruling not to testify, although he plans on attending the Philadelphia hearing.

The May 24 hearing will be convened by an independencommission that has the power to add or delete military facilities from the closure list. Under the Pentagon recommendations, NESEA would lose 1,055 jobs, or half its work force, by closing. The remaining jobs would be transferred to Portsmouth, Va.

But Navy officials told Mr. Waxman this week that federal law bars government employees from "representing other parties" -- in this case, the local community -- when the U.S. government has a "direct interest," said Navy Cmdr. Art Norton, spokesman for the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, which oversees NESEA.

Commander Norton also said the Pentagon doesn't want anyone disagreeing with Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, who recommended last month that 43 bases and facilities be closed and realign 28 others. "I think understandably the CEO [chief executive officer] of any organization doesn't want somebody second guessing anybody," he said.

Margaret McCarthy, spokeswoman for the eight-member Base Closing and Realignment Commission, said no current Pentagon employees have testified before the commission, except Mr. Cheney and his aides who supported closure recommendations.

Mr. Waxman, 65, who has worked at NESEA since 1951, said he favors keeping open the engineering center, which tests and integrates electronic systems for radios, radar and air traffic control. He termed it "the most efficient and cost-effective" facility in the Defense Department. "We think we can document this," said Mr. Waxman, who was slated to address the commission with Larry Schadegg, president of the St. Mary's County Technology Council.

The Navy decision has sparked concern among Maryland lawmakers and local officials, who fear the ripples of economic hardship from the closing of NESEA, the only Maryland facility slated to close under the Pentagon's plan. Five other facilities would lose jobs, though.

"Nobody knows the story like Bob Waxman. He built NESEA from nothing," said Jack Daugherty, president of the Maryland Bank and Trust Co. in Lexington Park, a community leader who has worked to keep the facility open. "If he could tell the story, it would certainly help us."

"I don't see anything wrong with Waxman testifying," said Representative Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-Md.-1st, whose district includes NESEA. "He can provide more than adequate information."

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