When Congress resumes work on the Reagan administration's proposed defense budget this week, nearly $3 billion in Washington area contracts will be on the line.
These contracts range from household furniture-making to high-tech, from landscape services to complex surveillance and anti-missile systems.
While the economic fate of the Washington metropolitan area is not tied as closely to the Defense Department's $245.5 billion budget proposal as some parts of the West Coast, the area economy does depend substantially on defense contracts. And, as other parts of the area economy have fallen into decline, defense contracting has taken on an even brighter luster.
In fiscal 1979, Department of Defense contracts with companies performing the work in the Washington area amounted to $1.78 billion and created roughly 70,000 jobs, according to one analysis. In fiscal 1981, the last year for which figures are available, the total amount of DOD contracts for products and services in this area had risen 63 percent to $2.9 billion.
Most of the money went to Northern Virginia, where contracts added up to $1.464 billion. The Maryland suburbs received $809.6 million. Defense Department records indicate that D.C. received $626.6 million in contract funds, but about 20 percent of that appears to be an interagency contract between the Defense Department and the Department of Energy.
The contractors range from companies easily identifiable as defense contractors, such as Litton Systems Inc., to less obvious names such as jazz disc jockey Felix Grant and the Merando Construction Co., a general contracting firm established in Washington in 1937 that does construction work at various area military installations.
Litton, which is opening an engineering office in Crystal City, has a division, Amecon, in College Park where more than 2,000 workers perform tasks for the military including work on passive radar systems and air traffic control systems.
Felix Grant produces one of a series of programs used by the U.S. Marine Corps for recruiting. Grant's is a 30-minute jazz and blues program laced with recruiting messages that the Marine Corps airs on college stations and other stations that choose the show as part of their public service programming.
Still other Defense Department contractors include the Department of Energy, which has a joint program with the Navy to do research and development on nuclear reactor cores and other components for submarines; Federal Prison Industries Inc., which supplies household furniture, and area colleges and universities.
In fact, one of the largest contracts in the area in fiscal 1981 was Johns Hopkins University with $118.3 million in Defense Department awards. Most of the work Hopkins performs for the department is done for the Navy at the university's Applied Physics Laboratory in Howard County, near Laurel. Among other things, the school was involved in developing the AEGIS radar system that protects a carrier task force against air attacks. The system is now being installed on board the USS Ticonderoga for testing.
The military's contracting also has an impact on the Washington area far beyond the money spent on goods and services produced in this area. Martin Marietta Corp. is by far the largest defense contractor based in the Washington area, but the company, which is headquartered in Bethesda, does little actual work here on its defense contracts. The company's nearest plant is in Baltimore.
Martin Marietta's many defense contracts include the Titan and Pershing missiles, a variety of defense avionics equipment and munitions. The company is also one of the prime contractors on the controversial MX missile program.
PRC Inc. is another large defense contractor based in the Washington area that does substantial amounts of its work outside of the area, much of it in California, including such tasks as working to improve the efficiency of the Sidewinder Missile.
The bulk of the work done in the Washington metropolitan area probably involves computers, either for data processing--a big chunk of the contracting dollars spent in the area goes for what are essentially bookkeeping and clerical services -- or for elaborate computer war games and simulations.
Xerox and Honeywell Information Systems appear to provide mainly office equipment and services in the Washington area.
On the more exotic end of the scale, though, Sperry Corp. just dedicated a new 150,000-square-foot engineering and development facility in Reston for simulators to be used to train personnel for F18 helicopters. Singer's Link Simulation Systems Division in Silver Spring makes trainers and simulators that train military personnel how to run engine rooms and teach commanders how to handle troops in the field.
Other companies, including TRW and Honeywell, have done work on elaborate worldwide command and control communications systems. Tracor has 1,500 to 2,000 employes in the Washington area providing technical services to the Navy, much of it having to do with sonar and fleet communication. EG&G, which provides analytical services for the Navy, is under contract to the Navy to help the government of Saudi Arabia develop its naval fleet.
Booz Allen & Hamilton Inc., a huge Washington-based consulting firm, does a wide range of work for the military, including developing a system that predicts how electronic systems will react to the electromagnetic pulse that follows the detonation of nuclear weapons.
Little of the work in the Washington area is defense manufacturing, but there is some. Fairchild Industries builds A10 Thuderbolt II attack planes for the Air Force in Hagerstown. IBM makes sonar for attack submarines at its facility in Manassas. VSE does design development and prototype manufacturing.
Some of what area defense contractors do is closer to home. Cianbro Corp., which has its headquarters in Maine, is working on the McMillan Reservoir water treatment plant, one of the city's major water treatment facilities. In its second year, the company's project essentially involves replacing filters in the plant for approximately $25 million.
The project has little to do with defense, but the client is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.