By May 16, workers at Dugway Proving Ground and Tooele Army Depot will know if the U.S. Government plans to tinker with their job security.
On that date the Secretary of Defense will forward recommendations for military base closures and realignment to a panel of eight people known as the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission. The commission will have until Sept. 8, to evaluate the list of bases the Department of Defense plans to close or realign. If the commission determines the military is not adhering to its own formula, it can make changes to the list.
Tooele Army Depot employs about 535 while Dugway provides work for nearly 1125. More than 57 percent of Dugway’s workforce is paid directly by the federal government while 43 percent work for private contractors doing work for the military.
In 1993 Dugway avoided a round of base closures while the Tooele Army Depot was hit hard. Prior to 1993 the Depot employed nearly 5,000 people. Its operations were realigned to Red River Army Depot in Texarcana, Texas.
The scenario appears similar again this time around. Dugway’s unique, somewhat top-secret and highly technical operation makes it an unlikely target for closure or realignment. Tooele Army Depot officials are more uncertain about their fate.
“In the last year or so we have gone through another round of BRAC questioning and have provided data,” said Kathy Anderson, public affairs officers for Tooele Army Depot. “We’ve done a lot to lower our hourly labor pay rate and we brought in a new mission. But we thought we were safe in 1993.”
The Defense Department is trying to streamline the military and eliminate antiquated equipment and operational methods.
In the wake of recent terrorist attacks, BRAC is developing criteria as to which bases are essential to provide security.”
“It would be hard to imagine how Dugway could be on the list,” said John Pike, a defense analyst at GlobalSecurity.org. “Dugway is one of the country’s main facilities for developing defenses against biological and chemical attacks,” he said.
Since 1995 the Utah Defense Alliance has lobbied politicians and studied the nation’s military all in an effort to keep the federal government doing business in Utah at Hill Air Force Base, Dugway and Tooele Army Depot.
Rick Mayfield, executive director of the Utah Defense Alliance, said the Utah Legislature appropriated $5 million to their efforts.
“About $500,000 to $1 million of that has been funneled to efforts in keeping Dugway and Tooele Army Depot alive,” Mayfield said. “We realize that jobs in Tooele County are just as valuable to the state as the jobs at Hill Air Force Base.”
Mayfield said the alliance will study the list provided by the Secretary of Defense and then go to work trying to lure other military operations to Dugway and Tooele. “With focus on homeland security we may find some great opportunities to bring in work to Dugway and Tooele from other bases targeted for closure by BRAC,” he said.
Although labeled “independent” the BRAC Commission could certainly be swayed by political interests. It is generally believed, however, that President George W. Bush and Congress will accept the BRAC Commission recommendations.
The BRAC Commission must forward its report to the president by Sept. 8. The president will accept or reject the recommendations on an all-or-nothing basis and forward them to Congress. Congress will have 45 legislative days to enact a joint resolution rejecting all the recommendations or they become binding.
Utah should be well represented in the process because former U.S. Congressman Jim Hansen from Davis County is one of the eight people on the BRAC Commission.
Other members of the commission include James H. Bilbray of Nevada, Philip Coyle of California; Admiral Harold Gehman, Jr. U.S. Navy (Ret.) of Virginia; General James T. Hill, U.S. Army (Ret.) of Florida; Lieutenant General Claude M. Kicklighter, U.S. Army (Ret.) of Georgia; Samuel Knox Skinner of Illinois; and Brigadier General Sue Ellen Turner, U.S. Air Force (Ret.) of Texas.