Philadelphia naval yard faces closure Panel deciding fate of U.S. bases spares lab at St. Inigoes

July 01, 1991|By Richard H. P. Sia | Richard H. P. Sia,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- A federal commission decided last night that several major military installations across the country, including the Army's Fort Ord and the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, should be shut down to save money, but it spared a key Navy testing facility in St. Mary's County.

The Base Closure and Realignment Commission also voted to scale back other facilities but agreed that at least a dozen on a combined Pentagon-commission hit list should remain open. Among others given reprieves were Fort Dix in New Jersey; Navy training centers in San Diego and in Orlando, Fla.; Moody Air Force Base, Ga.; and a controversial new Navy home port in Staten Island, N.Y.

President Bush -- who is to receive the panel's recommendations today -- must decide whether to send it along to Congress for an all-or-nothing vote later this summer.

The Pentagon had proposed closing Fort Dix, which runs an Army boot camp, and the Orlando center, arguing that anticipated declines in recruiting made these facilities unnecessary. Members of the commission countered that defense officials neglected to consider a possible "surge" in training needs during any future mobilization for war.

The reprieve given to the Naval Electronics Systems Engineering Activity at St. Inigoes, Md., means that the facility will remain open at least until the next round of base-closing proposals are considered in 1993.

St. Inigoes would have lost 1,055 jobs, or half its work force, by closing. The remaining jobs would have been transferred to Portsmouth, Va.

The fate of the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard rested heavily on thepanel's decision to back the Navy's preference for keeping open the rival Long Beach Naval Shipyard in California. The panel's own analysts declared last week that Long Beach ran a more efficient operation than Philadelphia, a conclusion that raised howls of protest from Pennsylvania and New Jersey lawmakers.

The massive Philadelphia yard, which already is expected to lose Navy repair work to Norfolk, Va., and other competing East Coast ports through the rest of the 1990s, employs about 8,000 civilians. The Long Beach yard has a work force of 4,200.

While the commission agreed with the Pentagon's recommendation to close both the Philadelphia Naval Station and the Long Beach Naval Station, it decided that the Navy's newer Staten Island port was too valuable to lose.

New York politicians have been split over the Staten Island issue, and the Pentagon offered the panel annual savings of $47.8 million by shutting it down. But Commissioner William L. Ball III, who served as Navy secretary in the Reagan administration, said, "I find no logic in removing the most modern [home port]. We should look elsewhere."

The commission voted to close the Army's giant Fort Ord, which would mean a loss of more than 16,000 jobs in the Monterey, Calif., area, but decided that Fort McClellan in Anniston, Ala., should stay open, mainly because it offers chemical warfare training.

During a session that ended late last night, held in an ornate Capitol Hill hearing room, the seven former government and military officials on the commission also backed Pentagon proposals to consolidate a network of Army and Navy research laboratories, with the exception of St. Inigoes and other East Coast naval engineering centers.

Under the Army reorganization, research activities in four states would be relocated at two newly designated "flagship" facilities in Maryland: Aberdeen Proving Ground and the Harry Diamond Laboratory in Adelphi. This move should shift as many as 765 jobs to Maryland, but further streamlining at the two facilities could result in a net gain of 73 jobs, according to Pentagon estimates.

The commission also decided to scuttle earlier plans to transfer the Letterman Army Institute of Research, a medical research facility now located at the Presidio in San Francisco, to Fort Detrick, Md.

The panel observed that the changes should trim personnel and overhead costs and improve efficiency, but also agreed to defer any moves until Jan. 1 so that a separate advisory commission can complete its own study of military labs.

The panel's overall recommendations, which will be sent to the White House today, are expected to trigger a bitter fight between President Bush and Congress in coming weeks.

While the Bush administration has been eager to close unneeded facilities, lawmakers have shown little willingness to sacrifice jobs and defense spending in their districts.

The president has until July 15 to accept or reject the recommendations or ask for further revisions. Administration officials already have indicated that Mr. Bush would support whatever the commission decided and would forward the proposals to Congress by July 15.

By law, Congress then would have 45 days to accept or reject the package as a whole.

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