One tactic used to shield a military base from closure is to position its operations as critical to a current national mission, and that strategy was in evidence last week in new funding approved by the House of Representatives for Navy bases in Charles and St. Mary's counties.
The House defense appropriations bill contains more than $21 million for the Patuxent River Naval Air Station at Lexington Park and more than $3 million for the Naval Surface Warfare Center at Indian Head.
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), who represents Southern Maryland on Capitol Hill, said in a statement released by his office, "The significant funding . . . represents a continued commitment to the region by the House and the U.S. Navy, leaving Indian Head, Pax River and St. Inigoes well-positioned for the next round of base closings in 2005."
The measure must still pass in the Senate and be signed by President Bush.
Funding that would benefit Pax River includes $1.5 million for Unmanned Air Vehicle and Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle programs at Webster Field in St. Inigoes; $1 million for naval aviation communications improvements; $2.5 million to upgrade base maritime facilities to support military and homeland defense operations; $5 million to improve operations of intelligence-gathering aircraft; $1 million for development of technology to repair metal aircraft structures with bonded composite materials; $2 million to develop new training approaches for soldiers and sailors deployed at sea; $4 million to continue development of software to automate maintenance procedures for naval aircraft; and $3 million to continue the Maintenance Data Warehouse program, which is part of the Navy's effort to create a centralized aviation logistics and management database.
The programs designated in the appropriations bill are all focused on providing for the current and future readiness of naval aviation and the joint strike fighter aircraft, said James Darcey, a spokesman for the Patuxent River base.
For Indian Head, the House passed $3 million to develop the anti-torpedo torpedo (ATT) and $1.5 million to reduce the size of weapons systems controls.
Under the bill, both bases would also benefit from $1.5 million toward firefighting operations in the Washington naval district, which includes bases and facilities at Patuxent River, Indian Head, U.S. Naval Academy, Chesapeake Beach, Carderock and Dahlgren, Va.
In St. Mary's County, the firefighting funds could indirectly relieve pressure on local budgets because of the county's mutual aid agreement with the base. The county and the base share firefighting staff members and materials.
The House-passed bill is roughly in line with funding for Pax River in other recent years, said St. Mary's County commissioners President Thomas F. Mckay (R-At Large).
"This is about an average year for us," he said. "Our average years are pretty strong compared to many other places in the nation."
Last year, Pax River received $27.9 million in funding for military construction projects, Darcey said.
But still, the continued funding is a good sign for Pax. If the federal government is willing to invest in the base, it is less likely to close Pax River in a few years, McKay said
About 19,000 people work at Pax River, with 71 percent coming from St. Mary's County, McKay said.
The Indian Head Navy base is the largest single employer in Charles County, with 3,000 people working on the base, said Chris Adams, a spokeswoman for Indian Head.
But the House appropriation is not enough to keep Indian Head open, said John Bloom of the Indian Head Defense Alliance.
"It is mostly for operations issues . . . but it is not, in my judgment, as important as investment in military construction projects," he said. "Certainly we are not going to turn our back on [the funds], but we think when the Defense Department is up to make decisions to replace facilities, [military construction] is more meaningful in terms of the future of Indian Head."