War effort disruption possible with base shift, Pentagon says

January 03, 2008|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Sun reporter

Shifting sensitive defense work being done at Fort Monmouth in New Jersey to Aberdeen Proving Ground could disrupt the war effort if the Army fails to replace the many workers who are likely to quit or retire rather than move, the Pentagon acknowledges.

In a report to Congress, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England writes that officials plan to minimize the upheaval from the base move by relocating its 5,200 workers gradually over the next three years and recruiting military retirees locally to fill the many vacancies expected.

The 15-page report, required by Congress when it approved the nationwide military base realignment in 2005, was submitted last week. It provides a broad outline but few details of how the Defense Department plans to close the 90-year-old New Jersey post and move its work force to Maryland without a drop-off in its work.

With as many as 70 percent of the Monmouth workers indicating that they will not move to Maryland when their jobs transfer, the report says the Army faces a "significant challenge" in replacing them, in part by training new people for highly technical, often classified work.

The Army plans to hire up to 2,500 employees over the next few years. If it can't get enough to cover the gap, it will look to recruit military retirees - an estimated 14,000 live around Aberdeen - or contract out some of the work.

The Army also has stepped up efforts to hire graduates of colleges in the region, offering them temporary, low-cost housing on base at Monmouth until their jobs are transferred to Maryland.

The report also proposes to offer unspecified retention, recruitment and relocation bonuses to cut down on turnover.

The Army's plans for the move to Aberdeen call for completion of new and renovated laboratories and offices by the 2011 deadline. But the report acknowledges that "some areas of concern still exist" about the likelihood of finishing work in time.

Efforts will be made to line up suitable backup space at other government installations nearby or in private facilities, the report says.

New Jersey officials have complained that the Pentagon understated the costs and disruption of moving Monmouth's work to Aberdeen. Congress has never reversed a base closing once it has been approved.

tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

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