Maryland would gain more than 6,600 jobs - more than all but one other state - as jobs throughout the country are sent here under a vast restructuring of the nation's military bases proposed yesterday by the Pentagon.
The state's big bases would get bigger, namely Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County and Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County, both of which are expected to see an influx of thousands of civilian personnel over the coming years.
St. Mary's County officials were relieved yesterday to learn their community - home to Patuxent River Naval Air Station and its 20,000 employees - wouldn't lose much of its economic engine, a base that a recent study found generates more revenue for Maryland than the Port of Baltimore.
Overall, the Pentagon is recommending shutting roughly 180 of the nation's military installations - including more than 30 major bases, the first round of base closures in a decade. Nearly 30,000 jobs will be eliminated - and nearly $50 billion is expected to be saved over 20 years.
Nothing will be final for months. The highly political process of military realignment is expected to last well into the fall, with the first closures coming next year.
Maryland will also suffer some losses. Some smaller installations will be closed, while the Bethesda-based National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency - which does mapping and analysis of satellite photographs and images for the military - is slated to be moved, which could mean 2,800 jobs heading south to Fort Belvoir, Va., over the next five years.
Md. comes out ahead
But Maryland's installations fared well overall, said several military watchers, because of the tremendous focus here on research and technology, as opposed to basic military training.
"That is the order of the day in the military now - more brainpower-type of facilities," said John Bloom, president of the Indian Head Defense Alliance, a community advocacy group for the Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head in Charles County.
"We're obviously very pleased," said Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. "This is a very major development in the state of Maryland, not just with respect to the military and our role in national security and the terror war, but also in economic development."
Only Georgia gained more jobs than Maryland, according to Pentagon documents released yesterday.
Fort Meade will add more than 5,300 jobs, more than any other installation in Maryland. Military adjudication, defense information, communications networks and media organizations will be consolidated at the base.
Even though Aberdeen, already Harford County's second-largest employer after the school system, should come out far ahead, the Army base's well-known Ordnance School - and its thousands of jobs - is likely to be sent to Fort Lee, Va.
But losses in places such as New Jersey, Kentucky and Alabama might be the proving ground's gain. A chunk of the military's non-medical chemical and biological defense programs will be consolidated there, as will many communications and electronic programs. "All those civilians coming in - it's pretty much all high-level jobs," Richardson said.
The proposed increases in higher-skilled positions at Maryland's military installations will solidify the state's reputation as a home for technology workers and fuel growth in certain communities.
"We're not an affluent people for nothing," said Baltimore-based economist Anirban Basu. "We're affluent because we're very smart and very educated. This is what separates Maryland from the bulk of the country."
And with every new job, there will be an added boost to the economy.
"The multiplier effect of these jobs in other service industries, on the housing sector, on retail sales, on Little League, on restaurants. ... Anytime you get new jobs it's a good thing," said Charles McMillion, president of MBG Information Services, a business and economics information firm in Washington.
Among the closings are the Defense Finance and Accounting Service at Patuxent River (53 jobs), the Naval Reserve Center Adelphi (17 jobs) and the PFC Flair U.S. Army Reserve Center in Frederick (22 jobs).
The famed Walter Reed Army Medical Center across the border in Washington is to shut its doors, with its nearly 2,000 jobs transferred to what is now the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. More importantly, said U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, it will create a world-class hospital a stone's throw from the National Institutes of Health.
The news is not all good for Bethesda. The National Geo- spatial-Intelligence Agency will consolidate several Maryland, Washington and Virginia offices into one future location at Fort Belvoir for a savings of $535 million over 20 years. It's a move the agency has been planning for a while.
Still, the official word came as a surprise yesterday to Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, who said he would try to fight the disappearance of nearly 3,000 positions. "We'll make our best case for that facility - it's a great facility. This is exactly the type of site they're looking for for defense agencies," he said, citing its top-notch security and fencing.
In the 1990s, Duncan said, the Naval Surface Warfare Center in White Oak was closed by the Pentagon. Recently, the federal government consolidated its Federal Drug Administration offices on the site. In that case, he said, "we took bad news and turned it into a great opportunity for us."
Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, in a statement released by her office, called the NGA's potential departure "an unnecessary and costly move" with no obvious benefit. The Maryland Democrat said she'll fight it.
"At a time when reform of our intelligence community should be our highest priority, the Secretary of Defense should not waste time and resources on shuffling vital intelligence assets around the Beltway," Mikulski said.
Another move that's causing concern involves the Martin State Airport Air Guard Station, north of Baltimore. The station will lose 123 jobs, and its eight C-130J aircraft will be relocated to bases in California and Rhode Island.
Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who represents the area that includes the guard station, has already sent a letter opposing the proposal.
"This is just the beginning of the process," he said. "We're trying to give a process of procedure to show the commission that we can retain certain jobs and it can be efficient - because the issue is efficiency."
Difficult to change
Convincing the Base Realignment and Closure Commission to change a Pentagon recommendation, however, is a difficult task. If the commission wants to add a facility not on the Pentagon's list, or remove one, seven of the nine members must approve it. In prior base-closing rounds, about 85 percent of the bases that appeared on the department's recommended closure lists were ultimately closed or realigned.
The commission must send a final list to President Bush - who can accept or reject the list, but not change it - by Sept. 8. If Bush approves it, the list goes to Congress, which also cannot tinker with the individual decisions, in early November. Lawmakers have 45 days to approve it on an up-or-down vote; if they take no action, the closure list becomes law after 45 days.
"We're optimistic and happy," said Todd Morgan, president of the Southern Maryland Navy Alliance. "But the devil is always in the details."
Sun staff writers Laura Cadiz, Andrew A. Green, Ted Shelsby and Childs Walker contributed to this article.