State Officials Prepare as Feds Eye Military Base Changes

Jan 30, 2012Council in the News, Other, State House News Service

By Matt Murphy/State House News Service
For Wicked Local

Lexington — The potential for another round of military base closures across the country has Massachusetts officials preparing for a fight to protect a vital sector of the state’s economy that employs tens of thousands of residents.

Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray is planning this week to announce a tour of the state’s six active military bases, including Hanscom Air Force Base. The tour is set to start Friday with a visit to the Barnes Air National Guard base in Westfield.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said last week that the Obama administration would request Congressional authority to start a new Base Realignment and Closure Commission process (BRAC), possibly as soon as 2013 with a second round in 2015.

The request will be part of the Defense Department’s 2013 budget proposal that will put the department on track to trim $487 billion from spending at the Pentagon through 2021. The last BRAC process started in 2005, jumpstarting a full-throated effort from the state’s Congressional delegation to protect Hanscom and Natick Soldiers System Command, spearheaded by the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy.

The Patrick administration is seeking to sign a series of “Military and Community Enterprise Agreements” with local agencies to build grassroots support to not only keep the military bases in Massachusetts open, but possibly expand on their missions to bring jobs and investment to the state.

“We’re making sure we understand the current missions being performed at the facilities to give us better opportunities to promote Massachusetts as place to fight and keep what we’ve got, but also to bring new missions here,” Murray said.

The tour will feature stops at Hanscom, the Natick Army base, Otis Air National Guard Base in Barnstable County, Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee, and Devens. Several of the bases have been able to make upgrades since the last BRAC that Murray said should strengthen the state’s arguments for preservation and expansion.

U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, the Bay State’s only Republican and an Army National Guard member, last week convened a meeting in Washington of defense industry leaders and New England lawmakers to begin preparing to defend Hanscom, the largest active military base in New England and home to the Air Force’s Electronic Systems Center.

“In his role as a member of the Armed Services Committee, he has done his best to take a lead in coordinating efforts between Members on the committee and the (New England) Delegation. This is team fight,” Brown spokeswoman Marcie Kinzel said in an email to the News Service.

U.S. Sen. John Kerry, in a statement to the News Service, said protecting Massachusetts military installations from closure or relocation would require “an intensive effort.” Kerry said he gathered the New England delegation a year ago when rumors of a new BRAC first surfaced, has spoken to Panetta, and has hired three new staff members with “military chops” to focus on the issue.

“Back in 2005, Teddy Kennedy and I made a strong case about our military installations and Massachusetts was largely protected. Last time we kept the 104th Fighter Wing in Westfield. It helps to have seniority and experience but most importantly we had a strong case to make. If this happens, we’ll do that again,” Kerry said.

Murray said he started last year to meet with stakeholders, including the National Guard, economic development agencies and transportation agencies to update data from the last BRAC round. The informal group met in February, July and September to organize the process for compiling updated statistics on each base.

Murray met in October with Chris Anderson, president of the Massachusetts High Technology Council, and former UMass President Jack Wilson to begin working with Economic Development Secretary Gregory Bialecki to do an inventory on the impact of the defense sector on the Massachusetts and New England economy.

Bay State defense contractors tripled the value of their contracts to $15.6 billion from 2001 through 2010 and almost doubled their employment rolls, which supported almost 116,000 workers last year, according to a 2010 report published by Associated Industries of Massachusetts and the University of Massachusetts Donahue Institute. The report found the defense industry accounted for 85 percent of all federal contracts awarded to Massachusetts, ranking the state fifth nationally in Department of Defense contract awards and seventh in contracts from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Total defense-related economic activity in Massachusetts increased from $10.6 billion to $26 billion between 2001 and 2009, a period during which the United States has been involved in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Payrolls generated by Bay State defense companies totaled a record $8.93 billion during that period, according to the report.

“Our goal is to fight to keep every job and see if there’s an opportunity to expand some of the mission at the facilities in partnership with the host communities. It’s an important part of our economy and the missions are all vital,” Murray said.

Though defense research at companies such as Raytheon could continue to flourish regardless of the outcome of a new BRAC, Murray said both base activity and private sector defense research support one another, and he predicted competition between the states would be “fierce.”

“There is a cross pollination here, and that’s important. We think that’s a strength we have,” Murray said.

Kerry singled out Hanscom and Otis as “hugely important” because of the importance to the economy of the state’s technology industry and research institutions.

“We have assets no other state in New England can match. This is a campaign we’ve got to run, and I’ll talk again and again to the Pentagon and the President to protect Massachusetts. I’m not shy about pressing our case and I’m going to keep meeting and talking and preparing and I’ll be prepared to go toe to toe with the facts,” Kerry said.

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