Maryland Wins, Virginia Loses

June 29, 1993

It is easy enough for this newspaper to laud the work of that Scrooge of all federal agencies, the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission, which has just completed its agonized recommendations that dozens of military facilities around the country be shut down at the cost of thousands of jobs. Easy, because Maryland came out a winner, actually gaining 5,000 jobs mostly at the expense of Northern Virginia's Crystal City, where the Navy was lushly ensconced in glitzy skyscrapers neatly near the Pentagon.

We would like to think, however, that if the gods of base closure had frowned on Maryland as they did on poor Charleston, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay area and Orlando, the decision would have been received here philosophically.

America is overstocked with the military infrastructure erected during the boom years of the Cold War. Even if the president and Congress approve the latest base closing list as presented, with no changes allowed to give them cover, the nation would still have too many installations -- many of them the collaborative result of pork-hungry pols and competing services eager to accommodate.

While Orlando is threatening to bring suit and Virginia's Sen. John Warner is talking about legislation to eviscerate the base closing commission's powers, Charleston has reacted with dignity and good sense. An old Navy town if there ever was one, it lost its storied shipyard and a number of other Navy facilities but won designation as the Navy's premier electronics center on the East Coast. Mayor Joe Riley said it is time for his city to move ahead by relying on the high-tech civilian jobs of the future rather than on a Pentagon payroll always subject to the vagaries of politics.

While there is no doubt that base closings can be devastating for people and localities dependent on the military economy, many studies suggest that the changeover to a civilian economy can be beneficial over the long run.

Elected public officials, however, have no such luxury. Which is why the panel was subjected to emotional lobbying by frantic politicians as it signaled thumbs up or down on Pentagon proposals.

Orlando and Chicago found themselves in fierce combat over the Navy's choice for its one major training center. Maryland and Virginia, rivals over the centuries, were in tough competition as the Navy sought to move out 11,000 employees from Crystal City's high-rent district for St. Mary's and Montgomery counties, and points elsewhere.

Now it is up to President Clinton and Congress to approve the recommended base closings in toto. If they balk, they risk undermining the whole elaborate structure for doing what is politically painful but economically necessary if the budget is ever to be brought under control.

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