Localities said to need more BRAC help

June 19, 2008|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Sun reporter

The Defense Department needs to provide more information and help to counties in Maryland and elsewhere that are facing clogged roads, crowded classrooms and other problems because of growth at military bases, a new report says.

The Government Accountability Office, the watchdog arm of Congress, says in its report that while the Pentagon and other agencies have provided some funds to help communities plan for base-related growth, the issue has not received the necessary "high-level leadership." An interagency federal committee set up to help localities affected by base realignment and closures - a process known as BRAC - has not met for nearly two years, the report points out.

Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County, Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County and Bethesda National Naval Medical Center in Montgomery County are among 20 bases nationwide where the Defense Department expects communities to be "substantially and seriously impacted" by base-related growth, the GAO report says. Traffic congestion, inadequate schools and a shortage of affordable housing are the top concerns, it adds.

The report comes as Maryland officials press the Defense Department for more federal funding to pay for transit and highway improvements to ease anticipated congestion around the state's growing bases. This month, the state's two senators, Barbara A. Mikulski and Benjamin L. Cardin, both Democrats, called on the Pentagon to provide $21 million for transportation improvements to accommodate the move of much of Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington to the naval hospital grounds in Bethesda.

"GAO's report reinforces Sen. Mikulski's concerns about the federal government stepping up its investment in our BRAC-impacted communities," said a spokeswoman.

"If anything, this report might help us," said Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Democrat whose district encompasses Aberdeen Proving Ground and Fort Meade.

J. Michael Hayes, director of federal and military affairs in the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, said the state has received more from the Defense Department than some states. The GAO report says some communities still don't have a clear idea of how many more military personnel will be assigned to their bases or when.

More than 15,000 defense jobs, most of them civilian Defense Department employees or "embedded" contractors, are expected to be added at military installations in Maryland as a result of the nationwide base realignment ordered by Congress in 2005. But other jobs also are being added at and near the bases; planners have projected a total increase of 60,000 jobs and 28,000 families statewide.

The Defense Department has provided more than $8 million in grants to state and local governments in Maryland, Hayes said, much of it to study transportation and water needs expected from the base growth. But the Pentagon offers little other funding to communities expecting to grow as a result of base realignments.

Montgomery County has requested $21 million under a defense program that traditionally pays for road improvements around rural bases that experience significant growth. Of that, local officials want $20 million to build a new Metro subway station entrance closer to the hospital, and $1 million to upgrade intersections. Traffic is projected to soar on already jammed roads around the facility.

"We're proud that we're going to be home to world's greatest military medical center," said Phil Alperson, Montgomery's BRAC coordinator. "But we hadn't planned for it and don't have resources to address it."


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