Harford, military officials worried about lay-offs, BRAC uncertainty at Aberdeen Proving Ground

One BRAC brought jobs and construction to Aberdeen Proving Ground and Harford County, but could military funding cuts spell the end of that prosperity?

Lobbyists and military officials in Washington have been pushing for a new round of Base Closure and Realignment in 2017 – commonly referred to as BRAC. Congress, however, has been divided on the subject of a new round of BRAC changes and the Department of Defense is bracing for more federal cuts and layoffs.

Harford County Economic Development Director Jim Richardson said he already is anxious about the possibility of funding cuts affecting APG.

Richardson's department has been working with the Army Alliance, a local non-profit organization that lobbies on behalf of the post, to keep the Congressional delegation informed.

"We are constantly monitoring all Department of Defense issues because of this budget that is really hampering the whole Department of Defense work," Richardson said Monday.

As an example, he said the Army has discussed having fewer field divisions.

"If you have less military in the field, you need less support services," Richardson said. "That is what we keep watching, because whenever there are reductions, we are very concerned about those reductions."

Hiring freezes

Most offices at Aberdeen Proving ground are under a hiring freeze and they are bracing themselves for worse, Army Alliance President Jill McClune said

The alliance has been lobbying for an exemption to a 2013 federal bill that would require each Army department to cut 20 percent of its staff, she explained.

McClune said the alliance hopes to get an exemption for research, development, test and evaluation activities, which are commonly called RDT&E and which make up the bulk of activities at Aberdeen.

"If we are able to do that, that will take pressure off the commands and offices on post," McClune said, adding that she expects to learn within 60 to 90 days whether the post is exempt.

"We did [Capitol] Hill visits to [Washington,] D.C. April 1 and really talked about the importance of APG and really pushed the importance of RDT&E, and got a very positive response," she said. "We are hopeful. It has to pass both the House and the Senate."

McClune said the exemption would affect not just civilians, but also contractors, especially those who are embedded on the post.

"This would help the government retain some of those positions as well," she said of the on-post contractors.

Another BRAC 'inevitable'

She said another BRAC round of restructuring is "inevitable," as the military will need to find ways to be efficient and consolidate its resources, but it is unlikely to come this year.

"I think if you ask anyone in Congress, they are not for it," she said. "It is politically not viable. We don't think it will get approved this year."

The Army Alliance wants to ensure the post is well-positioned to take advantage of BRAC if it does come around again. McClune said she believes it could come up in 2017 or 2018.

She noted the post is doing a joint land-use study with the Chesapeake Science and Security Corridor that would also help the post in any future BRAC assessment. CSSC is a regional group that was formed by Harford and other jurisdictions to facilitate the last BRAC activities affecting the area.

The land-use study, which is expected to take about a year, just got under way and is a partnership involving Harford, Cecil and Kent counties, as well as the cities of Aberdeen and Havre de Grace, Steven Overbay, BRAC coordinator for the CSSC, said.

"APG is probably in a pretty good place, with all that happened in the last BRAC," McClune said.

The post gained about 8,200 direct jobs and 2.8 million square feet of building space when the most recent BRAC process that began in 2005 and ended in the fall of 2011.

Thousands of new defense contractor jobs also moved into the county because of the growth of activities at APG.

Some growth continues

McClune noted the post is taking bid proposals for two buildings, one for public health and one for a chemical laboratory.

She is also hopeful about a more stable defense budget cycle that would help contractor companies dependent on defense spending.

"Sequestration is still possible but I think everyone is more hopeful about a normal budget cycle," she said. "The [contractor] industry wants stability."

As the latest BRAC round wound down, Richardson said Harford peaked at about 128 contractor companies, although a few have since been lost through mergers.

Although contractor and other defense-related activity in the local has slowed down, Richardson said the Edgewood Area of APG is still experiencing growth.

"It has had an impact on our business community," he said.

Land to spare

"My department is working to play as strong a hand as we can," Richardson said. "If you don't have the artillery and hardware in the field and you are not producing new systems, that means you have less work to go around for everybody."

Most of those who have moved to the area because of BRAC live in the general community, not on post, he pointed out.

"Our hope is APG is well-positioned to receive additional programs because it is one post that is in the Capital Region that has the land to build additional facilities here," he said.

McClune agreed that unlike most Maryland military installations, "APG actually has land available. If they were to close other facilities, we have capacity."

She said the Army Alliance's top priority is to get more funding for building demolition, which would help free up even more land.

On the other hand, if BRAC ends up working against the post, McClune said she hopes to at least make the best of it.

"You've got to be very careful. No place is BRAC-proof... but I would hope that we would at least be stable," she said.

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