WASHINGTON SDB — WASHINGTON -- A bipartisan commission reviewing the Pentagon's base-closing plan expects to determine soon whether defense laboratories should be deleted from the list of targeted military facilities, a move which could spare more than 3,000 Maryland jobs recommended for elimination or relocation.
James Courter, a former New Jersey congressman who heads the eight-member commission, said yesterday that members are investigating whether the Pentagon's recommended closing and realignments of some three dozen research centers -- including a half dozen Maryland facilities -- violated a separate procedure set up by Congress to review the labs.
Maryland lawmakers and their colleagues have pointed out that Congress last year set up an advisory commission charged with improving the labs through consolidation or closing. That commission is expected to issue a report in September. By adding the military labs to the base closing list last month, the lawmakers argued, the Pentagon bypassed the procedure.
"We're very sensitive to Congress' wishes," Mr. Courter said during the second day of commission hearings for members of Congress.
"We as a commission have not yet decided . . . whether congressional intent was strong enough to take these [labs] off the list in block form."
The commission has the authority to add to or delete from to the Pentagon's list, which targeted 43 bases and facilities for closure and 28 others for realignment in a cost-cutting move.
Mr. Courter's comments came after Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., made a pitch to keep the labs off the list, saying "the process is being ignored."
"It is clear that the information you are working from is incomplete," she said. "I'm here to speak for more than 3,000 Marylanders who will either lose their jobs or have to relocate because of the proposed lab closings."
"You'll be notified very soon" about the commission's decision, Mr. Courter told the Maryland senator.
The commission is scheduled to make its recommendations to President Bush on July 1.
The Pentagon, however, has told members of Congress that since all military facilities were to be considered by the Defense Department in putting together the list, the labs could not be ignored.
Should the base-closing commission decide against deleting the labs, supporters of the facilities are expected to try a legislative maneuver. One House staffer said that an amendment is slated to be tacked onto the Defense Department's spending bill later this summer that would deny any funds for the closing of military labs.
The Pentagon recommended one Maryland lab closure, the Naval Electronics Systems Engineering Activity in St. Inigoes in St. Mary's County, which would result in a loss of 1,055 jobs.
Five other labs would lose jobs to realignments, including 1,706 at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Detachment at White Oak, and 553 at the David Taylor Research Center in Annapolis.
Many of the White Oak workers would be transferred to Dahlgren, Va., while some of the David Taylor workers would be relocated to Carderock, Md. or Philadelphia, Pa.
Five other members of the Maryland congressional delegation also urged removal of the labs from the list: Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Md., and Representatives Wayne T. Gilchrest, R-Md.-1st, Tom McMillen, D-Md.-4th, Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md.-5th, and Constance A. Morella, R-Md.-8th.
Mrs. Morella, whose district includes the naval center at White Oak, questioned the cost savings expected by the Pentagon.