State, local officials preparing for new BRAC

As President Barack Obama proposed a new round of military base closures and reorganization, Maryland's political and business forces already are working to protect installations here and position the state to benefit from any future moves.

Maryland still is growing from the last round of the base realignment process known as BRAC, which brought new commands, new missions and tens of thousands of new jobs to Fort Meade, Aberdeen Proving Ground and other military installations around the state.

"We're in a unique position," said Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Baltimore County Democrat whose district includes Fort Meade and APG. "We went through that process. All these new buildings are being built, millions of dollars in support and infrastructure. They're not going to invest in that and then pull away."

In his federal budget proposal for 2013 released Monday, Obama seeks congressional approval for two more rounds of BRAC, with the goal of realigning the military infrastructure to reflect a "leaner, more agile, and flexible force."

He also proposes cutting defense spending by $31.8 billion, or 5.2 percent, in the coming year.

Much of the savings would come at the end of the war in Iraq and winding down the war in Afghanistan. The plan calls for the elimination of several Army brigade combat teams, nine Navy ships, several Marine infantry battalions and hundreds of Air Force aircraft.

Maryland stands to benefit from continued funding in cybersecurity, intelligence and research. The Maryland Air National Guard stands to gain a new intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance group and see its network warfare squadron grow. But the cancellation of the C27J Spartan transport plane would leave the Maryland air guard without airlift capabilities for overseas deployments or state disasters.

Belt-tightening through BRAC would take years to implement. For now, government officials and business leaders are skeptical a divided Congress will appoint a BRAC commission in an election year — Rep. Buck McKeon, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has called the proposal "dead on arrival." But some do see a new round of realignment by 2015.

While the state and local leaders who helped make Maryland a winner the last time Congress reorganized the nation's military bases say the new realignment isn't likely to have a great impact here, they are taking nothing for granted.

The growing responsibilities of the state's installations in the missions of the future — intelligence and cybersecurity at Fort Meade, research and development at Aberdeen Proving Ground and Fort Detrick, medical care and research at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center — should insulate Maryland from the kinds of cuts likely elsewhere in the country.

Nonetheless, retired Marine Brig. Gen. Mike Hayes, director of the state office of military and federal affairs warned that "the processes associated with these decisions are not linear" and that circumstances can change.

"What happens in the world around us can vector these things in a different direction very quickly," he said. "So as you look at Iran, you look at Syria, you look at very problematic set of conditions in the world, anything about defense spending is subject to alteration on a short notice."

State and local officials and business leaders — many of whom came together initially for the last round of BRAC — continue to meet with Ruppersberger and other members of the state's congressional delegation to prepare for whatever lies ahead.

"In Maryland, we've shown that we all can work together to everyone's benefit," said Rosemary Budd, vice president for new business development with the defense contractor TASC Inc. and president of the Fort Meade Alliance. "The earlier we do that in these processes, I think, puts us in a much stronger position."

While details of a reorganization process would be up to lawmakers, the last several rounds have been governed by a framework laid out by the Defense Base Realignment and Closure Act of 1990.

Under that law, the secretary of defense recommends a realignment plan to a commission appointed by the president. Commission members take testimony, visit the bases that would be affected, and recommend a list of moves to the president.

The president may forward the list to Congress. Lawmakers may not make changes; they are given a deadline to approve or reject it in its entirety. If they do not act, the list becomes law.

The process is intended to minimize political influence in decisions that are supposed to be rooted in national security, but which can mean the loss or gain of tens of millions of dollars to the affected communities.

Still, it gives those communities the opportunity to argue their cases.

The case for Maryland is based largely on the gains the state made in the 2005 round of BRAC, which concluded in December. Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Fort Detrick in Frederick, Walter Reed in Bethesda and Joint Base Andrews inPrince George's County all grew as a result of that realignment.

That success, officials say, should beget more success. Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown, who chaired Gov.Martin O'Malley's BRAC cabinet, said the state is "well positioned" for any future realignment decisions — "thanks to the innovative nature of the specific missions Maryland gained in the last BRAC moves."

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardinsees "little vulnerability" for Maryland's installations.

"When you look at the consolidated missions on intelligence, on ordnance, the lab work that's done, the Navy testing facilities, I mean, I could just go down the list," the Maryland Democrat said. "Those missions are not as sensitive to reductions in force as some of the other facilities around the country."

Brown and others spoke of efforts by government and business to accommodate the growing military footprint with road improvements and workforce training. Those efforts remain works in progress, slowed in part by the sluggish economy and its impact on government revenues.

"We don't want to take our eye off the ball on continuing to assimilate all that change that came to us," said Barney Michel, principal strategist at the defense contractor at Joint Research and Development Inc. and president of the Army Alliance, which advocates for Aberdeen Proving Ground.

"That is one of the best ways of making sure that we net well in any future round of base realignment," Michel said. "One of the things that the military looks at is not only where things went but how well those missions were assimilated."

Another point in Maryland's favor: The likely focus of the next round of BRAC. The 2005 round featured several moves by the Army — hence, the gains at Meade, Aberdeen and Detrick. The next round is expected to focus more on the Air Force and the Navy.

Naval Air Station Patuxent River grew through several rounds of BRAC in the 1990s, and is now a major center for research, development, test and evaluation of naval and other aircraft.

Joint Base Andrews — formerly Andrews Air Force Base — was bolstered in the 2005 round and remains the principal airfield used by the president and the federal government.

Neither installation is seen as vulnerable.

Cardin said discussion about realigning bases should include installations overseas.

"The need for large numbers of military bases around the world is nowhere near as great as it was when the conventional threat was a force coming into a country and attacking us," he said. "It's the terrorist threats that leave us concerned."

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, said any base consolidation "should focus first on redundant and outdated facilities overseas."

Hayes said Maryland would do well in a future BRAC process "for many of the same reasons that we did well in 2005." He said: "That's a combination of the timeless nature of the mission and the greater criticality of some of the missions."

"Fort Meade will continue to grow because of the mission. In the case of Andrews Air Force Base, decisions are fairly independent of other BRAC discussion. In places like Aberdeen, Fort Detrick, Pax River — our places that are fundamentally involved in R&D — that work continues."