State makes pitch to save military jobs But overall gain pleases officials

April 22, 1993|By John B. O'Donnell | John B. O'Donnell,Washington Bureau

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Maryland fared well in the Pentagon's base-closing recommendations last month -- better than all but a handful of states -- and would end up with a net gain of some 5,000 jobs if the proposals were adopted.

That did not deter three of the state's top Democratic elected officials -- Gov. William Donald Schaefer, Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes and Rep. Steny H. Hoyer -- from asking yesterday for more. They argued at a hearing that Pentagon proposals to move some defense jobs from Maryland should be scrapped.

Mr. Schaefer admitted, however, that he was "almost embarrassed" to make the plea before the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission.

"We have been treated well in Maryland," he said. "I don't want to emphasize that, because it might detract from what I want to say."

His main message -- and that of Messrs. Sarbanes and Hoyer -- was that the commission should scrap plans to move most of the operations from the Naval Electronic Systems Engineering Activity in the St. Mary's County town of St. Inigoes. Defense Secretary Les Aspin proposed last month that the activities there be transferred to Portsmouth, Va., as part of a consolidation of Navy engineering operations.

Mr. Aspin said in March that the move would cost St. Mary's County 2,819 jobs, but the loss would be offset largely by a gain of more than 2,300 jobs at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station. An aide to Mr. Hoyer said yesterday that the numbers have changed in Maryland's favor. The likely job loss at St. Inigoes would be reduced to 1,500, while the Navy has raised the number of jobs it would move to Patuxent to 3,800.

Mr. Sarbanes urged the commission to reject the Pentagon recommendation to move the Annapolis detachment of the Naval Surface Warfare Center to Philadelphia, saying "you will break up something that is working very well without achieving noticeable cost savings." That move would cost the Annapolis area about 350 jobs.

The Annapolis and St. Mary's County changes were part of a major base-closing and consolidation recommendation that Mr. Aspin said would save $3.1 billion annually by the year 2000.

His recommendations are being reviewed by the base closure commission, which has until July 1 to give President Clinton its own set of proposals. If Mr. Clinton accepts the commission recommendations, they go to Congress, which can either accept or reject them in their entirety.

The commission is dealing with the third round of base-closing recommendations since 1988. The Navy operation at St. Inigoes was on the Pentagon's list in 1991, but a lobbying effort persuaded the commission to take it off.

Former Rep. Beverly B. Byron of Maryland is a member of the commission. While Mr. Schaefer went out of his way to praise her work on behalf of the state, she did not comment on the state's presentation and asked only one question.

Yesterday, the Marylanders argued that the St. Inigoes facility is an effective and cost-efficient operation that serves all military services and a number of federal agencies well. They said most of its personnel would not move to Portsmouth, thus breaking up a team.

Mr. Hoyer also argued that the Navy had made serious errors in developing a ranking of bases. He argued that if the ranking were done properly, "then we are the best in the world," outranking Portsmouth.

Mr. Hoyer asked why, if a consolidation of naval engineer functions is necessary, it isn't done at St. Inigoes, a site better suited to consolidation.

But, pressed on whether there had been an evaluation of moving the Portsmouth operation to St. Mary's County, Mr. Hoyer said he was not making such a recommendation because Portsmouth has a different mission, which can best be performed near the Navy base at Norfolk, Va.

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