Base-Closing Time Again

March 05, 1995

Once again it is time for those who want to shrink the federal government and reduce its budget to face the consequences.

Pentagon officials have selected another 146 military bases -- five in Maryland -- for closure because they are no longer needed in a downsized, post-Cold-War military force. Predictably, the scramble has started to convince an independent commission, which has the all-but-final word on base closings, to shut down the other guy's bases.

Maryland has fared well in prior base-closing decisions in the past seven years. Now officials here are geared up to protect local installations on the Pentagon's list. Yet for those who really want to see savings in the defense budget, regardless of parochial considerations, the base-closing process has been largely insulated from political pressures. An independent commission will make the final decisions on the Pentagon's recommendations, which Congress must then accept or reject in full.

The Pentagon's judgment is not perfect. If sound arguments can be made to preserve an installation, it should be kept open. That applies to some in Maryland. A strong case can be made for preserving the unique wind tunnel at the Navy's White Oak installation near Silver Spring. It is used for the space shuttle and by private industry, as well as the Navy. There's not another one in the nation.

As for the other Maryland installations -- such as Fort Ritchie in Western Maryland, likely to be closed -- this state must share the pain. The biggest disappointment was the decision not to move 4,000 Navy employees from Crystal City, Va., to White Oak. That would have been an important economic boost for struggling Silver Spring.

Still, the closing or slimming of military bases, especially in a state like Maryland with so many of them, is a serious economic problem. Thus, Maryland officials should not confine their efforts to undoing Pentagon recommendations. Gov. Parris Glendening

must draw up plans to offset military withdrawals as part of his economic revitalization drive. Many of these bases sit on prime real estate that could be converted to private-sector investments and private-sector jobs -- with a concerted push from state and local officials.

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