Maryland legislators plead to save naval research sites

June 16, 1993|By Jeff Leeds | Jeff Leeds,Contributing Writer

WASHINGTON -- Although Maryland actually stands to gain jobs under the Clinton administration's plan to cut military bases, a group of Maryland senators and representatives pleaded with the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission yesterday to spare two naval research sites in Annapolis and Southern Maryland from being closed.

Democratic Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes, along with Democratic Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, and GOP Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest -- who represent the districts in which the two research sites are located -- appealed to the commission to reverse a recommendation to close the Naval Electronics Systems Engineering Activity at St. Inigoes and the Naval Surface Warfare Center's Annapolis detachment. They insist the bases are vital to national security.

Defense Secretary Les Aspin has asked the commission to review his plans to close 31 major military bases nationwide as part of the Clinton administration's design for downsizing America's post-Cold War Armed Forces.

The report by the eight-member commission, due at the White House on July 1, is subject to approval or disapproval, but not alteration, by Mr. Clinton and Congress.

The loss of NESEA would be the deepest of proposed military spending cuts in Maryland, eliminating more than 2,800 jobs. Fierce lobbying saved the station from the Pentagon ax in 1991.

"By closing NESEA, the nation loses a national resource of management excellence," Ms. Mikulski said.

Supporters of the base, which does contract work for all the armed forces, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the White House and the Drug Enforcement Agency, cited it as a shining example of government efficiency. The station sits on a secluded 852-acre space free of electromagnetic interference, making it unique among East Coast military facilities.

The commission had planned to leave equipment at the Annapolis station, the Navy's only facility for machinery research and development, but would move 353 jobs to sites in Philadelphia and Bethesda.

Mr. Sarbanes protested, arguing that the travel costs associated with moving to Philadelphia and commuting back to Annapolis to use the equipment would eliminate any savings anticipated by the Navy. He said most of the facility's workers, who average a tenure of 21 years, would seek private jobs rather than move.

"We feel we have a very strong case for the Base Closure Commission to remove this facility from the list of bases to be closed," said Mr. Gilchrest, who estimated the travel costs for the Annapolis workers would be $6 million.

Some of the changes proposed by the Pentagon could prove beneficial for Maryland. The substantial loss of jobs at NESEA would be offset by moving the Naval Air Systems Command -- and 2,300 jobs -- to the Patuxent River Naval Air Station. Mr. Aspin's plan would also move the Naval Sea Systems Command to the Navy's White Oak facility.

Maryland lawmakers derided a recent offer by Crystal City building owners to sell the Navy its office space as "an obvious attempt through the use of expensive consulting firms to derail plans that the Navy has worked on for a substantial period of time."

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