Vote on bases likely today

Might add 2,200 jobs at APG, 5,300 at Meade

Md. officials project confidence

Decisions on Walter Reed, additional sites this week

August 24, 2005|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,SUN STAFF

Maryland will learn over the next four days whether four years of lobbying to bring thousands of high-paying defense jobs to the state have paid off.

And the most crucial day is likely to be today, when the federal commission that controls the fate of a national military realignment is scheduled to vote on proposals that would affect Fort Meade and Aberdeen Proving Ground.

After months of hearings across the country on recommendations to close or consolidate more than 60 U.S. bases, the nine members of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission will meet this morning at a hotel in Crystal City, Va., to begin deciding what will be cut.

At stake for Maryland is whether the commission will adopt proposals the Pentagon made in May that would bring to Maryland at least 6,600 defense jobs - more than any state except Georgia.

Yesterday, top Maryland officials remained quietly confident that the recommendations would be approved - but they weren't taking anything for granted, making last-minute calls to Pentagon leaders and the commissioners to ensure that there would be no surprises.

"I think we will come out a winner," said Aris Melissaratos, secretary of Maryland's Department of Business and Economic Development. Over the last four years, his department has spearheaded the lobbying campaign to bring military jobs to the state. He added that "the Army has followed [the commission's] requirements precisely. They are right on."

Maryland will find out how that optimism holds up today as the panel is expected to vote on adding more than 5,300 jobs to Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County and more than 2,200 to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County. Many of the positions are scientific, and state officials hope they will bolster Maryland's reputation as a high-tech magnet.

Another source of likely job gains will be the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. The Pentagon wants to relocate the flagship military hospital, along with nearly 2,000 jobs, to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. It was unclear yesterday when this week's vote on Walter Reed and some other affected state installations would take place.

Maryland leaders reiterated that the Pentagon's proposals would serve national defense priorities. They said that Maryland's proximity to Washington would meet the military's interests to consolidate and protect operations, and the state's deep pool of highly educated workers would also help high-tech operations to flourish.

Criticism of plan

But some uncertainty still exists over the expansion at APG, as elected officials from New Jersey have fought a proposal to close Fort Monmouth and move the installation's more than 5,000 scientists and engineers to Aberdeen.

New Jersey's congressional delegation has pointed to cost overruns as one reason to keep the installation put. Its argument, and those of other states, appeared to have been bolstered by a recent report from the Government Accountability Office that put the estimated savings of the realignment at about half of the $49 billion the Pentagon anticipates over the next 20 years.

The report stated that thousands of jobs expected to be cut would be reassigned. Those findings led commissioners to sharply question Pentagon officials last weekend in Washington over the projected savings.

The Pentagon put the cost of closing Fort Monmouth and moving those jobs south at $822 million, but New Jersey's congressional delegation has argued that the real cost is closer to $2 billion.

New Jersey leaders also pointed to a poll that predicted that 82 percent of the base's workers would not move to Maryland with their jobs, leading to a "brain drain" that would endanger troops in Iraq. Some commissioners said they were giving those arguments consideration.

Maryland leaders, however, said that consolidating weapons-development and testing efforts at APG would save the Army hundreds of millions of dollars a year. They also referred to GAO testimony that Fort Monmouth's closure was among the Pentagon's top recommendations for cost cutting.

The commission, led by former Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony J. Principi, must send its recommendations to President Bush by Sept. 8. The president must then approve or disapprove the list as a whole by Sept. 23. If he approves the list, it becomes law in 45 days unless Congress rejects it.

Potential losses

Maryland would suffer some losses if the Pentagon's recommendations are adopted. And state leaders have fought to keep those jobs.

They are hoping to keep the Bethesda-based National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency from moving to Fort Belvoir, Va. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Democrat, has asked the commission to consider moving NGA's nearly 3,000 workers to Fort Meade, home to the National Security Agency. And state officials want the commission to reconsider a Pentagon directive to relocate eight C-130J cargo aircraft and 123 Air National Guard jobs from Baltimore County to California and Rhode Island.

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