Responding to New Jersey officials' pointed criticism of a plan to transfer thousands of military jobs to Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland leaders staunchly defended the proposal yesterday and praised their state's work force.
The leaders attempted to dismiss questions about whether Maryland could provide the scientific talent needed to fill the more than 5,000 civilian jobs that would be reassigned from Fort Monmouth to Aberdeen, officials said. A federal commission is reviewing the Defense Department plan.
"We're going to assure them that in every capability this region has the work force better than any place in the country," said Aris Melissaratos, state secretary of business and economic development. "We have the skill set that it takes to take the Army to a new level of performance."
He was among a coterie of Maryland officials, including the congressional delegation and a coalition of area business interests, who addressed reporters in a science classroom at Aberdeen High School, near the outskirts of Aberdeen Proving Ground.
But their message was directed at the nine members of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, who are reviewing a Pentagon plan to close or consolidate dozens of major bases. The commission is visiting bases and holding a series of regional hearings, and will submit its closure recommendations to President Bush in September.
Some bases, such as Aberdeen Proving Ground and Fort Meade in Maryland, stand to gain jobs from the closed bases. But the states that have such bases are being put on the defensive by states that are vociferously making the case for keeping their bases.
Fort Monmouth has survived previous base-closure and consolidation plans.
When members of the base-closure commission visited Fort Monmouth this month, officials there said many employees, including engineers engaged in research and development projects, likely would quit their jobs rather than move to Maryland.
Yesterday, members of Maryland's congressional delegation accused New Jersey officials of maligning Maryland's work force by saying it lacked the talent to fill those jobs.
"It's going to be a fight," said Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Maryland Democrat, referring to political volleying by Maryland and New Jersey over Fort Monmouth. "There are those that are going to make this strictly political. We're coming back, and we're going to show everybody we have a great work force."
He said that nearly one in four workers in Maryland is a professional or technical worker, more than any other state. Maryland also ranks second in the percentage of people who hold graduate and professional degrees, according to lawmakers.