'Turning swords into plowshares' Clinton outlines conversion plan to defense workers

March 12, 1993|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,Washington Bureau

In a whirlwind visit to Westinghouse in Anne Arundel County, President Clinton unveiled yesterday a sweeping, $20 billion defense conversion plan to pump money into everything from communities facing base closings to Pentagon-administered grants to environmental science students who could help clean up toxic wastes on Army bases.

"I don't pretend that this will be easy, and all of it will take some time," the president told several hundred attentive Westinghouse employees. "But the choice we face is between bold action to build a stronger and safer and smarter America, or continuing to cut defense with no appropriate response."

The five-year, $20 billion program outlined by Mr. Clinton, more ambitious than his own aides had been predicting this week, was calculated to take some of the sting out of an announcement today of another round of proposed military base closings.

The president's plan encompasses the following:

* $5.5 billion for worker re-training, severance pay for early

military retirees and grants to hard-hit communities.

* $4.7 billion for Department of Defense grants to encourage "dual-use" technology investments. Westinghouse employees

laughed and applauded when Mr. Clinton told them that he will install a toll-free hot line today for suggestions on which technologies can be converted to civilian use and that the number is (800) DUAL-USE.

* $9.6 billion in research for new technologies, much of it by current defense-related companies already doing military research and development.

Only $1.7 billion of the total spending is planned for the coming fiscal year, and all but $300 million of that has already been appropriated.

In the coming years, the amounts would rise rapidly. Without being specific, White House officials said the money would come from the "redirecting" of funds from several agencies, principally the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy and the Department of Commerce.

Even if all that money is appropriated and spent, the symbolic nature of the visit may have been its most valuable feature.

More than three years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the federal government has not yet adopted any long-range plans on what fTC do with the industries, soldiers and defense industry workers displaced by the large-scale reductions in military spending.

Mr. Clinton had talked about such conversion extensively in the 1992 campaign -- often making the point that President George Bush scarcely discussed it. Frustrated Republican office-holders -- especially in California and other states hard-hit by defense cuts -- had wanted Mr. Bush to do this, but his advisers were conflicted on whether strategic civilian planning is really the government's job.

Mr. Clinton clearly believes the government must lead in this area, but he chose Westinghouse Electronic Systems to make )) his announcement because the company has already made the decision to covert on its own.

"All of you know from personal experience how much American industry has been changed by the cutbacks," the president said. "All of you at Westinghouse Electronic Systems Group are proof that you can make change your friend.

"In 1986, just 16 percent of the work done here was non-defense. Today, it's 27 percent. By 1995, half or more of your work will be non-defense."

Although Mr. Clinton invoked the biblical phrase about turning swords into plowshares, that analogy didn't seem to fit the technologies on display for him in a converted airplane hangar at the Westinghouse facility.

Before speaking to the workers, the president was shown several examples of "dual use" technology, including a computer that can do high-speed arrest bookings and fingerprint analysis -- just as in the movie "Robocop."

Westinghouse's Jim Armitage gave the president a demonstration -- and up popped a computerized image of George Stephanopoulos, White House director of communications. A delighted Mr. Clinton chuckled.

Later, in his speech, Mr. Clinton said: "What you have done here is what I wish to do nationally -- take some of the most talented people in the world who've produced some of the most sophisticated military technology and put that to work in the civilian economy."

To underscore the priority given this subject by the White House, Mr. Clinton was accompanied not only by Secretary of Defense Les Aspin, but by Energy Secretary Hazel R. O'Leary, Commerce Secretary Ronald H. Brown, Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich and a dozen members of Congress.

Because he was in Maryland, the president made a point of giving Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski a good-natured ribbing, telling the audience:

"You can tell who the best politician is. Of all these people I've introduced, only Senator Mikulski found a seat."

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.