Fort Meade may gain up to 10,000 new jobs

Maryland officials are advising local governments to expect as many as 10,000 new jobs at Fort Meade within seven years as the military consolidates bases and the ranks of the super-secret National Security Agency are boosted.

Aris Melissaratos, secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, said yesterday that the estimate - which is nearly double the number of jobs that Fort Meade is projected to gain under a base realignment proposal released last month - was drawn from discussions with military officials, plus the state's projections.

"It's a number to use for planning purposes, because the National Security Agency is a very closed agency," Melissaratos said of the Fort Meade-based agency, which handles eavesdropping efforts. "But the expectation is that we will grow a lot more than previously announced. ... And this shows that the state is transforming itself from an old manufacturing-base economy to a new information-based economy."

Many of the new workers are expected to be computer scientists, mathematicians and linguists - both federal employees and contractors - who will be using software at the intelligence agency to sift through data as part of the war on terror, Melissaratos said.

The Ehrlich administration is talking to Anne Arundel County about plans to expand Route 175, which runs past the entrance to the NSA, as well as how to improve schools in the region, build additional housing, upgrade mass transit and continue to upgrade the town center in Odenton to handle the growth in federal employees and contractors, Melissaratos said.

"We are preparing Maryland and the region to handle that kind of influx and substantial job growth there," Melissaratos said.

The county is well positioned to handle such an influx from the standpoint of office space, homes and roads, Anne Arundel planning officials said.

New housing developments have been planned for Odenton and the area around Arundel Mills Mall, said Joseph W. Rutter Jr., Anne Arundel's planning director.

Rutter said recent improvements to Route 32 have improved access to 5,400-acre Fort Meade. He added that planned improvements to Route 175, an important connector road in the western part of the county, will also help.

Howard County has two large mixed-use projects under way (Emerson and Maple Lawn). Both are located in the southern part of the county where an expanded Route 216 just opened, connecting Interstate 95 and U.S. 29.

"We are very much concerned about the increase in housing needs, and we'll be working with our director of housing," said Herman Charity, special assistant to Howard County Executive James N. Robey.

Nearly half the anticipated growth at Fort Meade, which has about 39,000 workers, comes from plans to beef up the NSA to fight terrorism and conduct other missions. Fort Meade officials told the state that the NSA is expected to add about 1,500 jobs a year in the state and worldwide for the next several years.

The other jobs stem from recommendations released last month by the Pentagon's Base Realignment and Closure Commission. The commission recommended closing 180 installations nationwide and eliminating 30,000 jobs in an effort to save $50 billion over 20 years.

Maryland, however, fared well under the commission's recommendations. The state would gain a net of 6,600 jobs under the commission's plan, including 5,361 jobs at Fort Meade and 2,176 at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County. Those figures do not include the thousands of job gains anticipated by the NSA.

Although some states fiercely oppose the base-closing recommendations, elected officials in Maryland are urging public support as well as lobbying the Pentagon and intelligence agencies to shift employees to the state. The commission will hold a hearing on its recommendations in Baltimore on July 8.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. reportedly has talked with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld about three times in the past six months, and his staff has held numerous discussions with other top military brass.

"The possibility of more jobs is always good news," said Ehrlich spokeswoman Shareese N. DeLeaver, who stressed that the base realignment process is continuing and complex.

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 the list, it goes to Congress, which has 45 days to approve it on an up-or-down vote. The proposal becomes law if Congress fails to act.

Yesterday, Ehrlich sent a letter to Anthony J. Principi, chairman of the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission, that continued to press the case for shifting jobs from other bases to Maryland.

"We are very proud to have a number of vital military institutions in Maryland, and we greatly appreciate what they do for our state and our national security, including their role in the global war on terror," Ehrlich wrote.

In other areas, military commanders have told the state that they may add 1,500 employees at Fort Ritchie in Western Maryland over the next three to five years, and about 1,000 jobs at the high-security Fort Detrick in Frederick County, Melissaratos said.

Bethesda, however, could lose about 3,000 jobs if the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency consolidates at Fort Belvoir, Va., as the commission proposed.

Anne Arundel officials said the proposed shift of thousands of workers to the county's western corridor confirmed their prediction that the area, given its proximity to Fort Meade, Baltimore-Washington International Airport and Washington, would become a center of information and defense technology.

All of the changes are part of a long-term conversion of the base from a military training mission to a focus on intelligence over the next 20 years, Fort Meade officials have said. Already, Anne Arundel is home to offices of eight out of 10 of the largest contractors, with many NSA contractors clustered around Fort Meade in places such as the National Business Park.

Sun staff writers Liz F. Kay, Larry Carson, Gwyneth K. Shaw and Tom Bowman contributed to this article.