The Pentagon has recommended closing 33 U.S. military installations and realigning 29 others, including a number of military R&D centers. While the Pentagon says the base closings are necessary to "increase efficiency through consolidation," the closings would put thousands of mostly civilian engineering jobs at stake.
Political and business leaders are concerned about the economic impact of the base closings proposed in their areas. Also, military commanders and technical supervisors at these bases fear the loss of momentum in the development of ongoing programs and the technical talent working on them.
One of the centers on the closings list is Fort Monmouth in New Jersey, which has been the Army's primary facility for developing communications and other electronic systems since World War II. Its achievements include the first handheld "walkie-talkies," the earliest radar prototypes, and some of the early work on night vision systems. It also helped develop the Army's unmanned aerial vehicles and latest ground sensors, currently being tested at Fort Dix and the Naval Air Warfare Center, also in New Jersey.
The Pentagon plans to shift most key Fort Monmouth projects and technical jobs to the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. Other functions and jobs would be moved to military bases in Ohio, Virginia, Maryland, and New York. By the Pentagon's own estimates, closing the fort would result in the loss of several hundred military jobs and 4652 civilian positions, including many engineers and scientists. Most of these jobs are expected to be shifted (or lost, if engineers and scientists decide not to move) over the next six years.
Army R&D activities in Fort Belvoir, Va., the Army Research Institute at Fort Knox, Ky., and Redstone Arsenal in Alabama also would move to Aberdeen. It's not clear how many jobs are at stake at these facilities. The DoD says the closings would result in $5.5 billion in recurring savings and a net savings of $48.8 billion over 20 years.
The nine-member Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission will review the list of proposed closings and send its recommendations to President Bush by September 8. Bush has until September 23 to accept or reject the recommendations in their entirety, which is his only option. If he accepts the plan, it will be final within 45 days unless Congress blocks the recommendations by joint resolution. If Congress doesn't act, the recommendations will stand. Bush has until November 7 to approve or reject the list. If he rejects the recommendations, the commission must revise the list by October 20.