By DAN LAMOTHE, Capital News Service
WASHINGTON - Maryland's congressional delegation on Wednesday defended the process that will move thousands of military jobs to the state as cost effective and good for the country, after criticism from other states that spawned an oversight hearing.
The federal base realignment and closure plan will ultimately save the military millions of dollars of dollars, eliminating duplication of services, improving national defense and improving efficiency, said Heather Moeder Molino, deputy chief of staff for Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Cockeysville.
"The Department of Defense really thought this through, and meddling in the (base realignment) process really undermines it," Molino said. "We've always cut costs in the end, and we've always improved military services with BRAC."
The comments came as the readiness subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee plans for an expected early-November hearing on cost escalations in the base realignment process, which have been used as a rallying cry in states that stand to lose jobs if it is implemented.
The hearing was called by Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz, D-Texas, readiness subcommittee chairman, said Loren Dealy, committee spokeswoman.
It first became public after Skelton sent letters to the New Jersey congressional delegation, which has used escalating expenses as a rallying cry for why Fort Monmouth in New Jersey shouldn't be closed.
"I share your concerns about apparent cost escalations and reduction in savings that are being reported by the Department of Defense," Skelton wrote. "Equally disturbing is the apparent disruption in the civilian workforce and the mission degradation that occurs as realignments are implemented."
An investigation by the Asbury Park Press in New Jersey has found that the cost of closing the fort and transferring many of its jobs to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County has increased from $780 million to $1.5 billion, giving BRAC opponents there ammunition against BRAC decisions.
"I'm pleased that Chairman Skelton shares the concerns we raised, and that he has agreed to hold another hearing on the implementation of BRAC 2005," Rep. Jim Saxton, R-N.J., said last week in a statement. "I have felt all along that the decision to close Fort Monmouth is flawed."
Spokeswomen for Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., said they are confident the hearing won't change anything.
"At the end of the day, it's going to make sense for these facilities to be at Aberdeen," said Stephanie Lundgren, a Hoyer spokeswoman.
Melissa Schwartz, Mikulski's spokeswoman, said the New Jersey delegation is doing "exactly what the Maryland delegation would be doing if we lost one of our most valuable bases," but that the BRAC Commission's recommendations have already been signed into law.
"The Defense Department saw what Sen. Milkulski knew: that Maryland was ready and able," Schwartz said.
U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick, a member of the Armed Services Committee, declined to comment through spokeswoman Lisa Wright until he received more information. U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, a member of the readiness subcommittee, could not be reached for comment.