- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Patuxent River Naval Air Station and its 22,000-plus jobs are not at great risk of closure or realignment whenever the next federal round of military base closures comes, according to a new report issued last week.
The Southern Maryland Navy Alliance, with $75,000 from the St. Mary’s County commissioners, hired a consultant for $60,000, which produced the report about the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to Pax River and its facilities.
During 1993 and 1995 base realignment and closure decisions, “the Navy deliberately prepared NAS Patuxent River and Webster Field Annex to become enduring installations,” the report said.
“It was nothing stunning. There were no great revelations” in the report, but it provides data to work from in moving ahead to protect Pax River, said County Commissioner Todd Morgan (R), a defense contractor program manager. “I don’t see anything significant that poses a threat to us.”
“There’s nothing popping up out of the study suggesting something we can’t handle,” said Robin Finnacom, acting director of the St. Mary’s County Department of Economic Development.
But in preparing for whenever the next round of BRAC does comes around, “it’s a great source of information for understanding these issues far better. Our community has to be ever vigilant to protect the Navy’s mission here,” she said.
Among Pax River’s strengths listed in the report:
• “NAS Patuxent River and Webster Annex [in St. Inigoes] represent significant absolute investments (over $3 billion in facilities, infrastructure, non-movable equipment, etc.) and when measured by investment per acre (approximately $408,460 per acre), much higher than the average investment for all Navy installations.”
• Patuxent River NAS and Webster Field have access to more than 50,000 square miles of controlled airspace. “The region enjoys excellent flying conditions throughout the year that enables robust project scheduling and execution with little concern for adverse weather.”
• “NAS Patuxent River’s location is considered ‘critical’ to the missions performed,” as the environment provides sea-level conditions. In the 21st century, “it is doubtful the location could be replicated elsewhere” on the East Coast.
Some weaknesses cited in the report:
• Mission sensitivity. The sensitivity and complexity of the work done at Patuxent River “inhibit the ability to easily understand the missions in a way that earns broader support for their sustainment.” While it doesn’t apply to those directly involved, “it does hinder the ability to educate non-technical, political, professional, media, decision- and/or influence-makers and potential supporters.”
“It’s our very uniqueness, it makes the work less understood by our decision-makers,” Finnacom said. “It points out uniqueness is also a weakness because it’s not well understood.”
• High energy costs, the high cost of doing business in Maryland and locally high housing costs. “Analysis of the difference in rates demonstrates an additional cost of several thousand dollars annually to assign military personnel to NAS Patuxent River instead of competing installations.”
Some opportunities in the report:
• Unmanned aerial systems: The development of Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership for unmanned aerial vehicles “means the region is ‘getting in on the ground floor’ of this growing, future market area,” which had a market value of $11 billion in 2011. “NAS Patuxent River’s expertise in unmanned systems should provide opportunities for new missions and regional economic development.”
• Enhanced use lease: “Though the project is progressing slowly, if it is successful it could provide the opportunity to relocate assigned mission personnel out of dated, temporary office space into more energy efficient, cost effective and modern facilities.” The enhanced use lease program calls on private developers to build facilities on Pax River property, which will then be rented to the Navy.
• Privatization of the Solomons Navy Recreation Center: “There is significant interest in DoD to privatize recreational and family support amenities.”
Some threats listed in the report:
• Department of Defense budget reductions: The president’s 2013 budget included a 10-year reduction of $487 billion in the Department of Defense budget. While research, development, testing and evaluation will probably be protected, the distribution of funding “could adversely impact” Pax River.
• Federal sequestration: The Department of Defense’s share of sequestration — across-the-board budget cuts ordered by Congress — could be as high as $500 billion during the next 10 years. That reduction “will have recognizable impacts on all DoD installations and activities.”
In moving ahead, the report suggests the Southern Maryland Navy Alliance pursue a strategic plan for sustainment and growth of Patuxent River and its facilities. Operating costs should be reduced and there needs to be more marketing of what Patuxent River does.
The report will be one of the foundational studies used by St. Mary’s County government as it develops an economic development strategy to diversify a local economy that is heavily reliant on federal funding associated with Pax River, Finnacom said.
“It looks at where we are and where we might be going in the future,” she said.
“I think it was money well spent because it gave us a baseline to work from,” Morgan said of the $60,000 spent on the report. We’re positioning ourselves for the future, which this is all about.”