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For So. Marylanders, BRAC is a worrisome acronym

[ Return To Senator Roy Dyson's Newsletter ]

Posted on August 12, 2001:

Senator Dyson Itís officially an acronym, but in Southern Maryland it has become a word as worrisome as death and taxes -- BRAC -- short for Base Closure and Realignment Commission.

We are more fortunate than we know in Southern Maryland to have four military installations that pump billions of dollars into the local economy. The Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Lexington Park, the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Indian Head, the Randall Cliffs Naval Research Lab near Chesapeake Beach and the Naval District Washington Solomons Recreation Center in Solomons are all magnificent military installations that do invaluable service for our nation.

All of these installations provide billions of dollars to the local economy and thousands of jobs. Pax River for example, is responsible for providing $2 billion to the local economy and employs 18,000 military, civilian and contract workers. Indian Head employs 550 military and 2,316 people (including 1,300 in Charles, 118 in St. Maryís and 56 in Calvert). Indian Head also spent $20 million on local contracts and has a payroll of $80 million. While Randall Cliffs and the Solomons Recreation Center are far smaller facilities, they too provide employment and tax revenue to Calvert County.

Now, imagine if any of these vital facilities were to disappear. Thatís why BRAC is such a scary word in Southern Maryland. And that is why we need to do everything we can as citizens, county, state and federal officials who live in and represent Southern Maryland to do everything we can to rally around these bases.

There is no question that some military bases throughout the country are not needed. Thatís why some are closed and consolidated such as what happened at Pax River a few years ago when naval offices were closed in Crystal City, VA, and Pennsylvania.

When I served in Congress on the House Armed Services Committee during the entire 1980s, we were in the midst of the Cold War. President Reagan endured enormous criticism for calling the Soviet Union ďthe Evil EmpireĒ and pushing for increased defense spending.

Since then, the military has built down the defense that Reagan encouraged be built up. Estimates are that the military has 20 to 25 percent excess base capacity. This excess base capacity is costing billions of dollars that can go towards more practical military spending. So while I admit some military bases are overinflated and the money to sustain them can be better spent elsewhere in the defense budge, I donít believe that is the case at any of the Southern Maryland facilities.

Pax River is an outstanding facility. It is responsible for testing and evaluating all naval aircraft and naval aircraft weapon systems. It is also a world-renowned test pilot school whose graduates include my former colleague in Congress -- Senator John Glenn as well as other well-known astronauts such as Alan Shepard, Scotty Carpenter and Jim Lovell.

Indian Head employs some of the best engineers in the country who are responsible for developing the chemicals used in weapons. This is a vital facility that does extremely important work.

The research done at Randall Cliffs is invaluable in ensuring our national security.

So while BRAC is inevitable and necessary, I see no reason why it should affect our bases and facilities in Southern Maryland. They are staffed by outstanding personnel be they military, civilian or contract employees. They are responsible for providing extremely valuable state-of-the art, cutting edge service to our country. These bases are not overinflated as are so many others.

Thatís why BRAC needs to stay out of Southern Maryland. However, when I was in Congress, the BRAC process was heavily politicized. When the Armed Services Committee recommended base closures, we had to face our colleagues with the bad or good news and it was not pleasant.

There were cries then for an independent commission to decide what bases should be closed or realigned. Today, I believe it is imperative that the BRAC process be as de-politicized as possible. Members of Congress with more power than others shouldnít be driving this extremely important task.

An independent commission is the only fair way to go about addressing this problem. By keeping their hands off the BRAC process, Congress will ultimately win. Members wonít be blamed if bases in their districts close -- the independent commission that doesnít worry about politics, but what is right for the country will be.

[ Return To Senator Roy Dyson's Newsletter ]

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