Aberdeen Proving Ground

Aberdeen Proving Ground was one of the bases in Maryland that drew new jobs during the last U.S. military realignment. (Lloyd Fox / The Baltimore Sun / September 9, 2011)

As President Barack Obama proposed a new round of military base closures and reorganization, Maryland's political and business forces already are working to protect installations here and position the state to benefit from any future moves.

Maryland still is growing from the last round of the base realignment process known as BRAC, which brought new commands, new missions and tens of thousands of new jobs to Fort Meade, Aberdeen Proving Ground and other military installations around the state.

"We're in a unique position," said Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Baltimore County Democrat whose district includes Fort Meade and APG. "We went through that process. All these new buildings are being built, millions of dollars in support and infrastructure. They're not going to invest in that and then pull away."

In his federal budget proposal for 2013 released Monday, Obama seeks congressional approval for two more rounds of BRAC, with the goal of realigning the military infrastructure to reflect a "leaner, more agile, and flexible force."

He also proposes cutting defense spending by $31.8 billion, or 5.2 percent, in the coming year.

Much of the savings would come at the end of the war in Iraq and winding down the war in Afghanistan. The plan calls for the elimination of several Army brigade combat teams, nine Navy ships, several Marine infantry battalions and hundreds of Air Force aircraft.

Maryland stands to benefit from continued funding in cybersecurity, intelligence and research. The Maryland Air National Guard stands to gain a new intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance group and see its network warfare squadron grow. But the cancellation of the C27J Spartan transport plane would leave the Maryland air guard without airlift capabilities for overseas deployments or state disasters.

Belt-tightening through BRAC would take years to implement. For now, government officials and business leaders are skeptical a divided Congress will appoint a BRAC commission in an election year — Rep. Buck McKeon, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, has called the proposal "dead on arrival." But some do see a new round of realignment by 2015.

While the state and local leaders who helped make Maryland a winner the last time Congress reorganized the nation's military bases say the new realignment isn't likely to have a great impact here, they are taking nothing for granted.

The growing responsibilities of the state's installations in the missions of the future — intelligence and cybersecurity at Fort Meade, research and development at Aberdeen Proving Ground and Fort Detrick, medical care and research at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center — should insulate Maryland from the kinds of cuts likely elsewhere in the country.

Nonetheless, retired Marine Brig. Gen. Mike Hayes, director of the state office of military and federal affairs warned that "the processes associated with these decisions are not linear" and that circumstances can change.

"What happens in the world around us can vector these things in a different direction very quickly," he said. "So as you look at Iran, you look at Syria, you look at very problematic set of conditions in the world, anything about defense spending is subject to alteration on a short notice."

State and local officials and business leaders — many of whom came together initially for the last round of BRAC — continue to meet with Ruppersberger and other members of the state's congressional delegation to prepare for whatever lies ahead.

"In Maryland, we've shown that we all can work together to everyone's benefit," said Rosemary Budd, vice president for new business development with the defense contractor TASC Inc. and president of the Fort Meade Alliance. "The earlier we do that in these processes, I think, puts us in a much stronger position."

While details of a reorganization process would be up to lawmakers, the last several rounds have been governed by a framework laid out by the Defense Base Realignment and Closure Act of 1990.

Under that law, the secretary of defense recommends a realignment plan to a commission appointed by the president. Commission members take testimony, visit the bases that would be affected, and recommend a list of moves to the president.

The president may forward the list to Congress. Lawmakers may not make changes; they are given a deadline to approve or reject it in its entirety. If they do not act, the list becomes law.

The process is intended to minimize political influence in decisions that are supposed to be rooted in national security, but which can mean the loss or gain of tens of millions of dollars to the affected communities.

Still, it gives those communities the opportunity to argue their cases.