Former U.S. BRAC chief says Md. will face future jobs competition

Realignment to bring thousands of new positions to the state, but state not immune from closures

May 20, 2011|By Raven L. Hill, The Baltimore Sun

Maryland was a winner in the last round of military base reorganizations, but the state should keep an eye on the competition in preparing for the future, according to the official who headed the realignment.

"Don't assume you are untouchable or immune to closures in the future. You're not," Anthony J. Principi, who was chairman of the 2005 federal Base Closure and Realignment Commission, said at a Friday event. "You need to assess your community's strengths and weaknesses today."

Another round of base closings or reorganizations could happen after the 2012 presidential election, possibly in 2014 or 2015, he said.

Principi spoke at a meeting of the Maryland Military Installation Council, where officials from throughout the region provided updates on the program, known as BRAC. The shifts, slated for completion Sept. 15, will bring thousands of jobs to Fort Meade and Aberdeen Proving Ground.

He said federal officials will likely be looking at Maryland installations' capabilities and the quality of life — for instance, the school systems and roads — in surrounding communities.

In making future recommendations, he said, the Department of Defense should better estimate the true cost of closures and realignments, including cost overruns; the federal government should assume a larger share of transportation costs; and more fully engage communities in the early stages of review.

"Whether it is to realign, bring an expansion or closure, there is little reason to blindside anyone," Principi said. "Transportation costs have to be taken into consideration by the federal government. You just can't impose it in the local community. They just don't have it."

He pointed to the response of Aberdeen Proving Ground, which exceeded its initial personnel transfer rate estimate, as an example that other communities should follow. A community liaison was sent to New Jersey to help military workers at Fort Monmouth work through transition issues as they were reassigned to Aberdeen.

"Steps like that really helped to bridge this transition successfully and ensure that we really did not lose the people we needed," Principi said.

Local officials said they appreciated Principi's comments on transportation costs.

"Transportation challenges have been our biggest frustration," said Karen Holt, BRAC coordinator for Aberdeen Proving Ground. "The federal support would go a long way to help us address these larger road improvement projects that we can't address at the local and state level."

About 8,300 new positions are expected at Aberdeen. Among the five intersections within a five-mile radius to the base, only one is fully funded for roadway improvements, Holt said.

"As you approach the installation, that's where you will have the greatest degree of congestion," she said.

Local officials are working on transportation alternatives, such as van pools and bus and shuttle service, as a short-term solution.

Approximately 420 employees at the Defense Information Systems Agency, which has relocated to Fort Meade from northern Virginia, are using ride shares.

But "they can't close the gap all by themselves. The others must participate as well," said Jean Friedberg, regional transportation coordinator for the Fort Meade Regional Growth Management Committee.

Fort Meade anticipates 5,800 new positions by September.

Principi also suggested that the state can promote itself by inviting members of Congress, high-ranking Department of Defense personnel and other officials to bases and communities to help them understand the mission.

Data in the 2005 report on base closure can be used as a guide for establishing priorities and identifying federal grants and resources, he said. "Make sure you're out in front of the competition."

raven.hill@baltsun.com

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