Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US Military Cuts Threaten State, Regional Economies Politicians Expected to Scramble to Protect Local Jobs from Base Closures

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

US Military Cuts Threaten State, Regional Economies Politicians Expected to Scramble to Protect Local Jobs from Base Closures

Article excerpt

IT is a typical office for a Pentagon big shot. First off, it's huge. There's a great view of Washington's monuments. The carpet is the deep ocean blue that says "senior official" and real paneling graces the walls.

But it's empty. In frenetic Washington that seems eerie. No paper of any sort shows on the desk. There aren't any small tanks or plastic planes or photos of the occupant meeting the president.

As Defense Secretary Les Aspin completes his team, an appointee will eventually take up residence here.

Visitors will not use the space for meetings. But for the moment the vacant office stands as a symbol of the job cuts and economic pain that accompany defense downsizing.

After all, if it were a corporation the Pentagon would easily be the largest in the world, with revenue almost twice that of General Motors. Its budget is more than three times larger than the gross domestic product of Saudi Arabia.

When an entity that big shrinks, lots of offices stand empty. Whole regions of the United States depend on defense spending for economic health. The uproar over the Pentagon's list of bases proposed for closure shows what happens when this support is taken away. People scream - never mind the federal deficit, or the end of the cold war.

Politics comes into play, and inevitably it will interfere with Secretary Aspin's efforts to cut spending while keeping as efficient a force as possible.

"This is where the real challenge of restructuring the US military comes in," notes Steven Wolfe, a researcher at the Henry L. Stimson Center.

Many Americans who don't live in an area visibly dependent on military spending, such as San Diego or Norfolk, Va., perhaps don't understand just how pervasive the military is.

Consider a few more statistics: Defense Department employees account for 60 percent of all the people that work for the federal government. Throw in workers in the civilian defense industry, and you've got almost 5 percent of the US labor force, according to Pentagon figures.

Some areas are exceptionally dependent on defense.

In southeastern Connecticut 1 in 5 workers has a military-related job, according to the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment. Fort Ord, in northern California, has already been tapped for closure; by one estimate the action could increase unemployment in the Monterey, Calif. …

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