Panel vote would bring over 7,000 jobs to Md.

Base closing, realignment boosts Fort Meade, Aberdeen Proving Ground

State could end up with largest net gain in jobs

August 25, 2005|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,SUN STAFF

ARLINGTON, Va. - A federal commission approved yesterday Pentagon plans that would bring thousands of high-paying jobs to Maryland, but displayed an independent streak by sparing two historic New England military installations slated for closure under the national realignment proposal.

Aberdeen Proving Ground would gain more than 2,200 jobs after the Base Closure and Realignment Commission approved the closing of Fort Monmouth in New Jersey.

The panel also approved moving media and defense information operations to Fort Meade, a group that makes up the bulk of the more than 5,300 jobs that the Pentagon had recommended to go to the Army post in Anne Arundel County.

Under the Pentagon's original proposals, the 6,600 jobs Maryland would have gained overall had been second only to Georgia's 7,400. But with the panel's surprise decision to preserve a submarine base in Connecticut rather than transfer many of its duties to Georgia, Maryland could end up with the largest net gain in jobs.

"We've had a state-level strategy to make Maryland one of the best knowledge- and technology-driven economies in the country," said Aris Melissaratos, Maryland's secretary of business and economic development. "It's a huge boost for Maryland's economy, a huge vote of confidence."

Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens said she was "delighted" as she watched the commission votes on television.

"So many people have worked so hard for such a long time on this," she said. "There has really been concerted, focused and bipartisan support for this."

Fort Meade employs about 40,000 workers. In addition to job gains expected through the base realignment process, county and state officials anticipate significant growth at the National Security Agency. The super-secret spy agency, based at Fort Meade, is expanding its antiterrorism operations, and state officials say that could result in up to 5,000 more workers there over the next decade.

While the votes were expected, the nine-member commission pulled several surprises on the first of four days of hearings in which it began to formally revise the Pentagon's recommendations for closing or realigning 62 major bases and closing more than 800 other facilities across the country.

The moves would save nearly $50 billion over 20 years, according to the Pentagon. But a recent report by the Government Accountability Office put the savings at about half that.

The commission - known as the BRAC - must send its final list to President Bush by Sept. 8. He then must approve the list in its entirety or send it back for revision by Sept. 23. Congress then has 45 days to accept or reject the entire list, but it, too, cannot make any changes. Historically, the president and Congress have not altered such recommendations.

The panel voted against Pentagon proposals to close the Portsmouth Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, and Submarine Base New London in Connecticut - two of the Navy's oldest facilities that are considered part of the economic lifeblood of New England.

"If we close New London down, we will never get it back," said commission Chairman Anthony J. Principi. "I think it would be a tragic mistake, a tragic loss for this nation."

But the commission decided to shut Naval Air Station Brunswick in Maine, rather than heed the recommendation to reduce its size.

Despite the gains at APG and Fort Meade, it was not all good news for Maryland yesterday. The panel voted to move the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, and its nearly 3,000 jobs, from Bethesda to Fort Belvoir, Va.

And at Aberdeen, the expected arrival of 5,000 scientists and engineers would be tempered by the closing of APG's Ordnance School and other facilities, resulting in a loss of 3,500 jobs.

State officials, however, noted that many of the jobs coming to Maryland would be much higher-paying than those leaving.

"Harford County is becoming a major story in the high-tech industry, and there is no end in sight," said Anirban Basu, chief executive of Sage Policy Group, an economic and policy consulting firm in Baltimore.

BRAC members did not address the news media yesterday, declining to comment until after further proposals are addressed today, including whether to move Walter Reed Army Medical Center and its nearly 2,000 workers from Washington to the naval hospital facility in Bethesda.

Principi said the panel probably would address the restructuring of the Air National Guard this afternoon. Pentagon proposals would reduce Air Guard strength across the nation, including Maryland, and governors of the affected states have questioned the constitutionality of that decision.

The BRAC's decision to close Fort Monmouth ends a contentious debate between political leaders in Maryland and New Jersey. Maryland officials have said that consolidating vital technology research at Aberdeen would serve the country's defense interests and save the Pentagon millions of dollars.

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