WASHINGTON – Maryland would be among the biggest winners in the nation under the list of military bases recommended for closure or consolidation by the Pentagon on Friday.
The state would see a net gain of more than 6,400 jobs and the loss of only one major military facility — the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in Bethesda, which would move its 2,800 intelligence jobs to Fort Belvoir, Va.
“Today has been a good day for Maryland,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville. “Across the state we have gained very substantial numbers.”
Most of the additional jobs would be civilian — or high-tech, higher-wage positions than the military jobs that would be lost if the Base Realignment and Closure Commission approves the Pentagon’s list.
“They’re really playing to our strengths,” said Aris Melissaratos, Maryland’s secretary of Business and Economic Development. “We are delighted with the result.”
The list of bases recommended for closure or realignment next goes to the BRAC Commission, which has until fall to review the list and make changes before sending it to the president for consideration.
The big Maryland winners in Friday’s preliminary list include Aberdeen Proving Ground, which would lose more than 3,400 military jobs but gain more than 5,300 civilian; and Fort Meade, which would gain more than 5,300 positions, mostly civilian, and lose just two military jobs.
The National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda would also see substantial growth as it merges with Washington’s Walter Reed Army Medical Center to create the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at Bethesda. The move would add almost 1,900 civilian and military jobs to the Bethesda campus.
An aide to Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, said the office only learned of the Bethesda move in the last few days. While Van Hollen welcomes the expansion of the medical center campus, the aide also said that local officials would have to be involved in planning to make sure it does not hurt traffic in the area.
“This is not going to happen overnight. This is something that local officials need to look at real closely,” said Phil Alperson, Van Hollen’s legislative director.
He said the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s move from Bethesda to Fort Belvoir was “not a big surprise to us,” since the sensitive work done at the facility demanded a more expansive and secure location. But the property that would be left behind is “prime land that will be used.”
Supporters of other bases around the state welcomed the release of the base-closing list Friday.
“We’re just thrilled,” said Jim Estepp, an advocate for Andrews Air Force Base, which would gain 400 jobs under the BRAC plan. “We’re going to be in good shape in the Andrews community.”
The additional jobs for Aberdeen are “a vote of confidence” for Aberdeen Proving Ground and for Maryland, said Wyett Colclasure, president of an advocacy group for the post.
While the state would gain thousands of jobs, a few bases would suffer small net losses.
The Indian Head Naval Surface Warfare Center, which had been seen by state officials and base advocates as a prime target before Friday’s announcement, would lose 137 civilian jobs but gain 42. The relatively mild loss left advocates for Indian Head relieved Friday.
“On balance we’re fairly pleased with it,” said John Bloom, president of the Indian Head Defense Alliance. “We got nicked a little bit, but we avoided closure, which was a big issue and concern.”
Some also worried that the Patuxent River Naval Air Station would take a hit in BRAC, but the base is slated to end up with a net gain of 87 jobs. The biggest hit there will be the closing of the Defense Finance and Accounting Service and the 53 jobs it has at the Lexington Park base.
The BRAC list also called for a number of Reserve Centers around the country to be closed, including two in Maryland: the Navy Reserve Center in Adelphi and the Pfc. Flair Army Reserve Center in Frederick. Defense officials said that those centers would be replaced by more than 100 new joint facilities around the country for the Reserves and the National Guard.
This is the most recent — and possibly the last — base-realignment plan under the current BRAC law. Under the law, the Pentagon identifies unneeded military facilities, which are then reviewed by an independent commission. The commission can make changes to the list before passing it on to the president and Congress, which can only accept or reject the list as is.
If approved, the list released Friday would have to be acted on in two years and changes would have to be completed in six years.
The Pentagon has said that about 20 percent of the military’s 1988 base capacity has been trimmed under BRAC, saving about $16.7 billion through 2001. It predicted that this round of BRAC could result in savings of up to $49 billion over 20 years.
-30- CNS 05-13-05