Government Reform chairman says base-closing plan could cause brain drain

Senior Virginia lawmakers said Monday that the Pentagon's base realignment and closure process could result in a brain drain from the Defense Department.

"That is something [BRAC commissioners] need to factor in," said Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, during a town hall meeting in Arlington, Va. Last month, Defense Department officials proposed closing 33 major facilities nationwide, realigning 29 others, and closing or realigning hundreds of smaller military locations. The Pentagon recommended moving more than 20,000 employees out of leased office space in northern Virginia-including Arlington.

Those recommendations have gone to the nine-member BRAC commission, and that panel will pass its revised recommendations to President Bush by Sept. 8. The president and Congress are required to accept or reject the closures and realignments in their entirety.

During the town hall meeting, Davis asked Defense workers if they were tied to their jobs or to the area.

"How many of you would be willing to move to Fort Sam Houston, Texas?" Davis asked. No one in the standing-room-only audience raised a hand.

"Redstone Arsenal, Alabama?" he asked. Again, no response.

When the congressman asked about Fort Meade in nearby Maryland, several workers raised their hands.

One audience member, who said he worked in research and development for the Defense Department, told the lawmakers he would leave the civil service before relocating.

"I'll flip burgers in Arlington before I go to Bethesda [Maryland]," he said.

Davis acknowledged, however, that the highly trained Defense workforce in Arlington would most likely not end up in the food service industry. He told the audience that there were already significant temptations to leave the public service for a defense contractor.

"There are a lot of opportunities to make more money, especially if you have a security clearance," Davis said, suggesting that the Pentagon should be aware of the potential pitfalls of the BRAC process.

Davis and Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., lauded the balance and mutual support between the Defense Department and the local community. Both lawmakers appealed to constituents to contact them and voice their opinions on the BRAC process.

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., also attended the town hall meeting but was less strident in his defense of northern Virginia facilities. He acknowledged that Virginia as a whole had fared well in the BRAC recommendations, although some communities stand to be hit hard.

Warner told the crowd that he would fight to ensure that "politics play no role" in the BRAC process.

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