Leaders defend military bases at hearing

N.J. officials protest closing Fort Monmouth

Md. group say state ready for new jobs

July 09, 2005|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,SUN STAFF

Fighting the proposed relocation of thousands of high-tech military jobs to Maryland, officials from New Jersey said yesterday that the move would cost taxpayers billions of dollars, endanger troops in Iraq and lead to a "brain drain" as workers refuse to transfer south.

The proposal, part of a package of shifts proposed by the Pentagon in its latest national base relocation, would mean a net gain of about 6,600 jobs for Maryland and was warmly embraced yesterday by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and others at a regional hearing of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission at Goucher College in Towson.

The plan drew fire from officials from New Jersey, however. They even presented a poll that predicted only 18 percent of the New Jersey employees offered jobs in Maryland would move, buttressing their argument that closing Fort Monmouth and moving its functions would disrupt the operations.

Ehrlich and other Maryland officials said the state's pool of educated workers - among the deepest in the nation - could readily fill the jobs.

Several bases and installations - including a Maryland National Guard unit slated to transfer to California and Rhode Island - were discussed during the four-hour meeting, at which top leaders from Maryland, New Jersey and Delaware made their cases to the commissioners. The pressure point, however, was the potential closure of Fort Monmouth.

About 200 workers from Fort Monmouth came to the event. They and delegations members wore pins that said, "Fort Monmouth Means Military Value."

In May, the Pentagon proposed as part of the base realignment and closure process to close the Army post and ship about 5,200 civilian jobs down Interstate 95 to the Aberdeen Proving Ground.

New Jersey's leaders said that with the country at war, the closure of Monmouth and the movement of thousands of scientists who help protect troop convoys from roadside bombs and helicopters from heat-seeking missiles could prove disastrous for troops.

"The brain drain is real, and it has real consequences for our national defense," said New Jersey Sen. Jon Corzine.

Maryland officials said they understood the emotions involved for states that may end up losing jobs. But they were quick to defend their standing and challenged the assertion that moving Fort Monmouth workers to APG would cost the military millions.

Maryland officials conceded the likely loss at APG of the Army Environmental Center and the Ordnance Center and School, a total of nearly 4,200 jobs. But they are expected to be replaced by personnel from Fort Monmouth, whose engineers and scientists design battlefield technology and echo-free testing chambers.

New Jersey's delegation, however, asserted that APG has virtually none of the facilities for this high-tech work. The years it would take to build them would add millions in unanticipated costs, those leaders said.

"Aberdeen will have to refurbish or build everything from scratch," said New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. "Maryland makes the case to do that, but why should the Pentagon pay for all of that?"

Maryland officials, including the Republican Ehrlich and Democratic Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski, expressed support for the BRAC recommendations. They testified that the state is well-prepared for the growth, in terms of transportation, housing and schools.

"We think the military case for these recommendations is very strong," Sarbanes said. "Of course, that is the most important factor that the BRAC commission considers."

The Pentagon has proposed closing about 180 military installations nationwide, resulting in the elimination of nearly 30,000 jobs and savings of nearly $50 billion over 20 years.

The commission can make changes to the Pentagon's list, but in previous years the commission has only altered about 15 percent of the recommendations.

The commission must send its final list by Sept. 8 to President Bush, who has to accept or reject it without changes. If he accepts the list, it then goes to Congress.

Fort Meade is slated under the proposals to gain more than 5,300 jobs, more than any other installation in Maryland, as it emerges as a national center for defense and information technology. The Army post serves as the headquarters for the National Security Agency, and many of the new jobs would support its surveillance efforts.

Maryland officials would like to add the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency to the 5,400-acre Fort Meade campus. The agency has 3,000 jobs in Bethesda, but the Pentagon has recommended shifting the operation to Fort Belvoir in Northern Virginia.

Commission Chairman Anthony J. Principi asked whether too much consolidation of such sensitive groups would complicate security. But Mikulski disagreed, saying that Fort Meade has adequate force protection.

The other issue of contention with Maryland officials rested in the recommendation to shift eight C-130J cargo aircraft and more than 100 jobs to Air National Guard bases in California and Rhode Island.

Maj. Gen. Bruce F. Tuxill, adjutant general of the Maryland National Guard, said the move would strip the Washington-New York corridor of emergency airlift capability. Under the Pentagon proposal, the nearest airlift planes would be more than 200 miles away in Youngstown, Ohio.

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