Cuts might shrink Naval Academy admissions

March 16, 2006|By PHILLIP MCGOWAN | PHILLIP MCGOWAN,SUN REPORTER

Cuts in Navy funding for the U.S. Naval Academy are making it hard to fill faculty positions and could result in smaller classes of midshipmen, hampering the college's ability to meet the military's manpower needs, U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said.

The Naval Academy, which has dealt with a series of budget shortfalls over the years, would be hit with a $7 million decrease in the fiscal 2007 budget.

Mikulski said the budget constraints are hindering efforts to fill 32 faculty vacancies, a number that is expected to rise.

"The academy cannot continue to turn out the best and the brightest with shrinking resources," Mikulski said in a news release. "This lack of funding could mean reduced professional training, a cut in the number of academy professors, and threatens to limit the size of the incoming Class in 2010."

The Maryland Democrat made her remarks after Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter presented his budget yesterday before a Senate appropriations subcommittee in Washington.

The Navy also is in the process of reducing the work force at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Southern Maryland by 20 percent over the next three years through retirements and attrition, something that Mikulski also criticized.

Defending priorities

Through a spokeswoman, the Navy defended its budget priorities.

"The Navy feels confident that the 2007 budget request provides ably for the future maritime security of the United States, our allies and our partners, not only in the coming year but in future years as well," Lt. Cmdr. Lisa Brackenbury said.

A spokeswoman for the military college in Annapolis said yesterday afternoon that she was unable to provide information on the academy's budget and faculty numbers. She also it would be inappropriate for academy officials to comment on pending legislation.

About 20,000 military, civil service and contract personnel work at Patuxent River, and thousands more contractors support those operations elsewhere in Southern Maryland.

Together, the workers research, develop and test aircraft components, such as communications and radar systems, along with the service's aviation fleet.

Mikulski questioned the Navy's ability to perform this work at reduced levels.

"Is the Navy sacrificing future maritime superiority for short-term cost saving?" Mikulski said. "At [Patuxent] River, they are developing the smart new weapons and technologies that are going to keep America safe. Is the Navy satisfied with having 20 percent fewer smart new weapons and technologies?"

According to a 2002 study, Patuxent River contributes $2.8 billion annually to the state's economy, a number that has likely increased, said John Savich, director of the department of economic and community development for St. Mary's County.

Savich said he is uncertain how the Navy's directive will affect the work force. "If it means the work goes away ... that would be hard for me to see," he said. "That would be a serious blow to the county's economy."

Speculation

Local and state officials speculate the Navy is seeking to consolidate operations nationally to help fund the building of a new generation of warships.

State officials said they understand the Navy's priority and are developing alternatives to keep the operations at Patuxent River viable.

"The Navy drives the economic engine of Southern Maryland," said J. Michael Hayes, who heads the office of military and federal affairs in the state Department of Business and Economic Development. "That is why we want to talk about the future."

phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

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