Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Black Friday

For a number of American communities, May 13, 2005 will go down as Black Friday, the day the Pentagon will announce the closure of local military installations and support facilities, part of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC)

As I write this, the BRAC announcement is still three days away. But a lot of cities and towns, large and small, already have the jitters. Rumors about possible closures are swirling. In Southwest Ohio, for example, the future of the Springfield Air National Guard Base appears uncertain, at best. In nearby Dayton, the sprawling Wright-Patterson AFB appears to be safe, but some units assigned to that installation--including a large intelligence organization--may be subject to realignment, with some military and civilian jobs possibly moving to other locations. Overall, this round of BRAC is expected to eliminate 10-12% of the military's base and facilities capacity, down from the 15% reduction originally sought.

At this point, speculation about the BRAC list is just that--speculation. But the threat of closure or realignment has mobilized a coalition of politicians, lobbyists and civic groups, determined to preserve their military facility at any cost. And for obvious reasons; the economic impact of a military base or support center is enormous. Los Angeles AFB, a small research and engineering facility located in El Segundo, CA, generates a statewide economic impact of $16 billion dollars a year. Even liberal California apparently loves the military-industrial complex, particularly when it produces that sort of economic return.

BRAC produces a lot of strange political bedfellows. Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy and Republican Governor Mitt Romney are lobbying to save Hanscom AFB, located near Boston. In Southern California, the Los Angeles Times, which rarely has anything good to say about the military, editoralized in support of Los Angeles AFB. Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, another liberal Democrat, has spent about $3 million to save Scott AFB, located near O'Fallon, across the river from St. Louis. Some of the personnel assigned to Scott commute from Missouri, but that state has not earmarked any money to lobby for Scott, or bases within its own borders.

Will the lobbying--or, in some cases, lack of lobbying--pay off? We'll know on Friday.

P.S.--I'm searching through my files for an e-mail I received a couple of months ago from a friend at a defense contracting firm. The message contained a list of bases that were supposedly on the BRAC list. If I can find the "list," I'll post it. The list supposedly represented a first hack at bases, installations and facilities targeted for closure. It will be interesting to see how that list compares with Friday's official announcement. Stay tuned.

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