U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) argued Friday against a Defense Department plan to move an intelligence agency from Bethesda to Fort Belvoir, and other top Maryland leaders lobbied to keep an Air National Guard base near Baltimore.
But the main message the contingent of Maryland officials had for a federal commission looking to consolidate military bases across the country was much more upbeat: Maryland is ready and willing to handle the 6,600 jobs that would come to the state if the Pentagon's plan is adopted.
"Maryland stands at the ready with a proven track record," U.S. Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D) told the Base Closure Realignment Commission during the state's hour-long presentation.
Under the plan, released in May, Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County would grow by 5,300 positions -- the most of any Maryland facility. The National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda would grow by 1,900 workers, many of whom would come from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, which the Pentagon has proposed closing. And the Aberdeen Proving Ground north of Baltimore would add about 2,100 jobs, many of which would come from Fort Monmouth, N.J.
The hearing, one of 19 such regional meetings across the country, came a day after Virginia officials decried the Pentagon's plan to move 23,000 military workers out of close-in Northern Virginia suburbs. But unlike their counterparts across the Potomac, Maryland officials, including Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) and U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D), said Friday they were almost uniformly thrilled at how the state fared under the plan.
On Friday, the realignment commission, which is working to create a final base consolidation list for President Bush by Sept. 8, also heard testimony from New Jersey and Delaware officials on how the recommendations would affect their states. Congress must sign off on the plan.
Mikulski said that moving the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which performs mapping and analysis of satellite images for the military, from Bethesda to Fort Belvoir would create "the worst traffic jam our dedicated workforce has to endure." The base in southern Fairfax County would pick up about 18,000 jobs under the plan.
Instead, the agency's workers should be moved to Fort Meade, where the National Security Agency is, she said. The two spy agencies "are the technical eyes and ears of U.S. intelligence," she said. "They must work together to work well."
The Air Guard base at Martin State Airport is critical to national security and closing it could jeopardize the national capital region, said Maj. Gen. Bruce F. Tuxill, who oversees the Maryland National Guard. He said the 135th Airlift Wing stationed there is "ready to respond to homeland security emergencies" -- for example, by transporting such crucial supplies as medicine. The wing's cargo planes would be divided among bases in California and Rhode Island.
If workers at Walter Reed are transferred to the medical center in Bethesda, new construction on the center's campus could accommodate them, said Aris Melissaratos, the Maryland secretary of business and economic development, in an interview after the state's presentation.
He also said it makes sense to consolidate the two facilities because of the Navy hospital's proximity to the National Institutes of Health and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. "It would give us the integrated synergy that we don't have today," he said.
"Walter Reed has been there forever," he added. "It's an old facility. It needs upgrading. . . . It's got more sentimental value than technical value."
Fort Meade, which has seen an explosion of defense contractors outside its gates in recent years, easily could handle the additional workers on the base, said Clemon Wesley, president of the Fort Meade Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy group.
Joseph Rutter, the Anne Arundel County planning and zoning officer, noted that 4,000 new housing units near Fort Meade have been approved recently. Road improvements around the base also are planned, and state transportation officials are studying an extension of Metro to the base.
After Maryland finished its presentation, New Jersey officials fighting to keep Fort Monmouth open said it was dangerous during a war to move jobs that help develop the technology and equipment used in battle.
"Closing this facility would harm our national security, it would harm New Jersey and, most important, it would harm American troops on the battlefield," U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said.
New Jersey officials also said that many of Fort Monmouth's workers would refuse to move to the Aberdeen Proving Ground and that the refusal would cause a "brain drain."
But Maryland officials scoffed at the notion, saying its workforce could soon fill the positions. "If they don't come, there are plenty of people to replace them," Sarbanes said.