Military Base Backers Range from Confident to 'Paranoid'
Military aircraft at Patuxent River Naval
(CNS photo by Sarah Abruzzese)
By Kathleen Cullinan
Capital News Service
Friday, April 29, 2005
WASHINGTON - Todd Morgan says he won't be able to rest until Christmas.
As president of the Southern Maryland Navy Alliance, Morgan spends half
his time these days meeting with public officials and lobbyists as he fights
to protect the Patuxent River Naval Air Station from the next round of
Pentagon base closings and consolidations.
"This year is one big, huge headache," he said, of the work leading up to
the scheduled May 16 release of the Base Realignment and Closure list -- and
the fight that is likely to follow over listed bases.
And Morgan is not the only one. Across the state, government officials,
businesses, community leaders and volunteer alliances like Morgan's have
spent at least a year making the case for why their particular base should
be spared or expanded in the next BRAC.
Some have more cause for concern than others: While Fort Meade is being
cast as a possible winner in this round of BRAC, the Naval Surface Warfare
Center at Indian Head is repeatedly mentioned as a likely target.
No one will officially predict what will happen in Maryland -- military
officials because they are not allowed to, business and government leaders
because they do not know for certain.
It has led to some unusual alliances -- bringing Gov. Robert Ehrlich, a
Republican, together with Rep. Steny Hoyer, a Southern Maryland Democrat,
"Steny Hoyer and I agree on nothing," Ehrlich said recently with a laugh.
"We never agree on one thing -- except BRAC."
Hoyer -- just one politician who has met with the governor, Pentagon
officials and county leaders to promote the Patuxent River and Indian Head
bases in his district -- said it is part of the job.
"Yes, we're concerned, and yes, we're working hard," Hoyer said of the
pending BRAC. "Anybody that's not concerned that has bases . . . is not
doing their job."
It is precisely that type of protectiveness that led Congress to
authorize an independent commission in 1990 to root out unneeded military
facilities and consolidate underused facilities, independent of political
The presidentially appointed commission will review the list of targeted
bases from the Defense Department in May, refine it and pass its own list on
to the president by this fall. The president can accept the list as is or
send it back to the commission. Then it goes on to Congress, which has to
accept or reject the list, without tinkering, by the end of the year.
This is the fifth and final scheduled BRAC round. The Pentagon estimates
that about 20 percent of the military's 1988 base capacity has been trimmed
under BRAC, saving about $16.7 billion through 2001.
But while the process is supposed to be immune from politics, it is not
immune from advocacy, Hoyer said. And advocates have become more
sophisticated and more dogged in this round, which has the potential to be
the largest yet.
From small installations with top-secret missions, to facilities like
Patuxent River where nearly 20,000 people work, most community leaders and
base advocates are cautiously optimistic that Maryland's bases will escape
the worst of the hit list.
But the various Maryland alliances are tacking in different directions,
depending on how vulnerable they think their base is or how well it matches
the Pentagon's criteria.
Some supporters have keyed their pitches to the fact that the Pentagon
said it would focus more than ever in this round on the military value of a
base, and less on environmental and community factors.
The work done at Naval Surface Warfare Center at Carderock, for example,
is not "publicized every day to the newspapers, so it's kind of difficult to
get people in the surrounding area to get too excited about it," said
Richard Metrey, president of the Maritime Technology Alliance, which
advocates for Carderock.
So his group is focusing on Carderock's "uniqueness to the government and
the country and the product line," since it is the only government ships
research lab in the country.
At Fort Meade, which already employs 36,000 people and houses the
National Security Agency, among other tenants, there is a strong feeling
that the base will not only escape unscathed, but could grow substantially
after this round.
"Fort Meade's really been in a kind of expansion mode," said Jay Weiner,
a land developer who has worked in the area for more than 30 years. The
amount of money poured into the base is "so substantial that I guess, to be
honest, most people would not think that it would be possible that it would
be cut in any way," he said.
Indian Head supporters, too, are pitching the unique attributes of their
base, despite rumors that the Pentagon is looking hard at closing their base
or moving parts of its operations to other facilities.
"Our information may be faulty and our sources inaccurate, but that's the
sense we have of what's going on right now," said John Bloom, president of
the Indian Head Defense Alliance.
If any facility in Maryland seems safe, backers of Andrews Air Force Base
say theirs is it.
Besides being the president's personal airport, the base has tenants from
other branches of the military -- integration cooperation between branches
is another of the Pentagon's criteria for this round.
"It's a very, very important part of our national security and certainly
our national prestige," said Jim Estepp of the Andrews Alliance. "There's no
indication that BRAC will affect [Andrews] in an adverse way."
All the same, Estepp said, "you never want to say you're too confident or
Which underscores the bottom line about BRAC: No one knows what will
happen until the list is finalized. Even then, about 15 to 20 percent of the
bases nominated may eventually be spared, if history is any guide -- and if
their boosters can make a strong enough case.
At first blush, Patuxent seems safe. It gained thousands of jobs in a
previous round of base closures, and it now drives the St. Mary's County
economy. But Morgan and others worry that Pax River could end up losing part
of its work anyway, possibly to a California installation.
"I hear lots of rumors. . . . How credible they become, I really can't
say," Morgan said. "From the alliance's point of view, we're paranoid and
Package produced for the Web
by Maryland Newsline's Mike Santa Rita. Banner graphic by Santa Rita.
Stories reported by staffs from the Capital News Service Annapolis and
Washington bureaus, and by Maryland Newsline's Kaukab Jhumra Smith and
Kendra Nichols. Interactive quiz by Nichols. Stories edited for print by
CNS bureau directors Steve Crane and Adrianne Flynn.
Published Spring 2005
2005 University of
Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism