The Race to Steal Bases Heats Up
The Pentagon is planning a new round of base closures that will create economic trauma nationwide in 2005, but this city teeming with more than 30,000 service personnel sees potential opportunity in the coming turmoil.
Local leaders are lobbying for more military jobs, expected to come from bases closed in other states, notably California. The city, for example, just spent $200,000 for a study by a Washington defense consulting firm that promotes the region as the best place to receive jobs from the Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo.
“We’d love to have them,” said Jeff Markovich, vice president for military affairs at the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce.
“This community loves the military 100%.”
Across the nation, state and local governments are gearing up, both to protect local bases and to grab jobs that will be lost in other states. Though California is widely seen as the most vulnerable state, it has been slow to react and made only a modest effort to influence the outcome.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld aims to eliminate nearly a quarter of the military’s infrastructure, which is considered surplus to the Defense Department’s long-term mission of fighting terrorists and limited wars. The closures could equal all the reductions in the four previous rounds of consolidation combined.
With so many jobs at stake, regions have created civic alliances and hired political lobbyists to help influence the decisions next year.
Texas voters approved a $250-million bond to help the state retain its massive military presence. Massachusetts has unveiled a $410-million plan to defend its bases. Florida, Georgia, and Virginia are also pushing aggressive efforts to defend their bases and gain new jobs.
“It is a war of all against all,” said defense expert John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org. “Every one of these places with military bases is hungry and every one would like to gobble up activity at less politically powerful locations.”
If history is any guide, California has plenty to worry about. In four prior rounds of base closures that began in 1988, California lost 22 major military bases, representing 23% of the big bases the Pentagon closed. It took the biggest hit of any state.
In some respects, the state’s vulnerabilities are just as significant now. Even after all the previous closures, California still has 238,000 of the Pentagon’s military and civilian employees, representing 14% of the nationwide total.
“Because California has lots of military facilities, the likelihood of it getting hit is 100%,” said Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute, a Washington think tank. “Secretary Rumsfeld wants $7 billion in annual savings, equal to all that was achieved in the prior rounds of base closure.”
One of Rumsfeld’s big targets will be the Pentagon’s scientific laboratories, research centers and testing ranges, all of which are considered to have excess capacity. California has long been a major research center for the military.
Colorado, New Mexico, Florida and Maryland are making pitches for California research facilities. Though these states are not openly lobbying for closures elsewhere, the rivalries are clear.
Maryland argues that the Navy’s Patuxent River complex would be a better place to conduct testing that is now done at the weapons centers at China Lake and Point Mugu. The two California centers together employ more than 5,000 people.
“The Southern Maryland Naval Alliance is very well financed and organized,” said Bill Porter, a retired Navy physicist leading an effort to protect the remote Mojave Desert outpost. “It makes our little China Lake alliance look puny.”
Likewise, Florida officials suggest the Air Force could reduce costs and improve capability by testing more aircraft at Eglin Air Force Base, a competitor to the smaller Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert. Some testing activities have left Edwards for Eglin, located in Florida’s Panhandle.
Meanwhile, Colorado and New Mexico covet the 4,500 civilian, military, and contractor jobs at the Los Angeles Air Force Base, which manages the acquisition of Air Force spacecraft. Four years ago, Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) wrote a letter to Rumsfeld that criticized a modernization effort at the base as a waste of money and proposed moving the entire operation to Kirtland Air Force Base in his state.
Rumsfeld rejected the offer and allowed the modernization effort, orchestrated by Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice), to go forward. But the move put everybody on notice that the L.A. base was in political play.
“The letter is indelibly imprinted on my brain,” Harman said. “It was a land grab.”
In the jostling for defense jobs, many politically conservative areas contend they provide a more friendly environment for the military. For example, Colorado Springs hosts picnics, parades, luncheons and awards for its military families, never failing to remind soldiers that they are on welcome turf. President Bush won 66% of the county vote here on Nov. 2.
“This is a very Republican place,” said Robert K. Scott, president of the Greater Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp. “It is bound to help.”
But key states such as Colorado, New Mexico, Florida and Texas that voted for Bush are not supposed to get any favors. And liberal states such as California are not supposed to be punished.
Indeed, politics and lobbying will play no role in the evaluations, said Raymond DuBois, the Pentagon’s chief architect for the coming base closures. The agency has sealed off lobbyists and consultants from the secret analytical work being done by the military services and seven specialized cross-service teams inside the Defense Department. Their recommendations are expected in a few months.
“Anyone who wants to trust us can appreciate the fact that we have wrapped this process in a pretty tight seal,” DuBois said in an interview.
In February, the Defense Department published a list of eight official criteria it would use to evaluate base closures, nearly all of them involving military or economic issues. DuBois added that cities that hired lobbyists or promised lavish spending programs to keep bases were just wasting their money.
“We cannot take into account promises of future investments,” he said. “I don’t want wealthier states outbidding other areas.”
But nobody is depending on such noble concepts to protect their state and regional economies from multibillion-dollar losses. And many experts say that the process will come under increasing political pressure when a formal Base Closure and Realignment Commission is appointed by Bush and Congress.
“Let’s not kid anybody,” said Leon E. Panetta, the former Clinton White House chief of staff who was just appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger co-chairman of a state council to protect California bases. “In the end, politics does play a role.”
Panetta acknowledged that California has been slow to mount as aggressive an effort as other states. However, the new state council includes many retired high-ranking military officers, who should have plenty of Pentagon contacts and know how to use them. And Schwarzenegger has far more clout with the Bush administration than Gray Davis, his Democratic predecessor.
In addition, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon) is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Redlands) is chairman of the House defense appropriations subcommittee. The two House leaders have the largest and most knowledgeable congressional staffs on military issues under their direct control, meaning the Pentagon is unlikely to get away with any thinly justified decisions, experts say.
California promoters consider the state an intellectual resource that the nation would be foolish to abandon. The Los Angeles Air Force Base, really an office complex, manages the acquisition of the nation’s key satellite systems that provide early warning of nuclear attack, communications, weather forecasting and navigation, among other missions.
The base also supports Aerospace Corp., the nonprofit research center with 3,000 employees in El Segundo, many of them scientists and engineers. It would probably go along with the base, if it were moved.
And along the San Diego Freeway, the spacecraft industry -- including Boeing Co., Northrop Grumman Corp. and Raytheon Co. -- has tens of thousands of workers building the bulk of the government’s satellites. Lockheed Martin Corp. has major operations in the Bay Area.
The bases and the contractors generate $16 billion of economic activity in the state, according to a recent study by the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp.
If the Pentagon decides to move L.A. Air Force Base’s operations to Colorado Springs, they probably would end up at Peterson Air Force Base, headquarters for the Air Force Space Command. The rationale for such a move is that the acquisition managers should be closer to the military users of the spacecraft.
In the Southern California aerospace industry, it is widely believed that Gen. Lance W. Lord, head of the Space Command, wants the transfer to occur and has ordered his subordinates to keep quiet. Lord was not available for an interview and a spokeswoman said he was not allowed to make public comments about the closure process.
But the retired commander of the L.A. base, Eugene Tattini, now deputy director of the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, said Southern California provided the Air Force with a unique intellectual synergy.
The region not only has the Air Force and defense industry sector, but JPL, which makes NASA’s deep space probes, a large commercial satellite industry and the engineering schools at Caltech, UCLA and USC, along with a half dozen other engineering schools.
“There is almost daily contact among them,” he added.
One argument against moving the L.A. installation is based on the belief that few of the experienced civilian scientists and engineers in California would be willing to move.
When Boeing decided to move its space shuttle engineers from Huntington Beach to Houston just before the 2003 Columbia accident, about 80% of them refused to relocate and new engineers had to be trained in Houston.
After the accident, investigators found that the “inexperienced team” in Houston conducted a flawed analysis during the flight that contributed to the disaster. Boeing is now rehiring shuttle engineers in Huntington Beach.
Lewis, the chairman of the House defense appropriations subcommittee, also invokes a provocative argument that additional base closures in the West, coming after the heavy shutdowns in past years, would threaten the very defense of California amid growing threats of terrorism and power shifts in Asia.
“There is a lack of recognition of the long-range importance of adequate basing in our state on the West Coast,” Lewis said, “particularly as the Pacific becomes ever more important in this changing and shrinking and complex world.”
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Base presence CaliforniaÕs 100 military facilities employ nearly 240,000 people, both military and civilian. Here are the sites with more than 3,000 employees:
Naval Base San Diego: 34,921 Marine Base Camp Pendleton: 30,275 Naval Air Station North Island, San Diego: 18,704 Travis AFB, Fairfield: 11,730 Marine AGCC, Twentynine Palms: 10,325 Marine Air Station Miramar: 9,192 Naval Construction Center, Port Hueneme: 8,481 Naval Air Station Lemoore: 6,565 Edwards AFB, Rosamond: 6,358 Marine Air Station Camp Pendleton: 5,382 National Training Center/Ft. Irwin, Barstow: 5,211 Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center, San Diego: 4,911 Naval Medical Center, San Diego: 4,607 Beale AFB, Marysville: 4,572 Naval Air Weapons Station, China Lake: 4,278 Vandenberg AFB, Lompoc: 3,864
Note: Does not include related contractor jobs
Sources: Department of Defense Base Structure Report, Fiscal Year 2003 Baseline