Rep. Pearce: Research lab move could be costly

The Associated Press

WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE — The Pentagon’s recommendation to move the Army Research Laboratory from White Sands Missile Range to Maryland could prove costly, Rep. Steve Pearce said.

“I think it’s going to create a higher operating expense rather than a neutral one,” Pearce, R-N.M., said.

The laboratory was on the Pentagon’s Base Realignment and Closure list. But instead of recommending the lab close, as the Pentagon recommended for Cannon Air Force Base in Clovis, it’s recommending that the lab be moved to Aberdeen Proving Ground.

The Pentagon’s recommendations are being reviewed by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. Its decisions are due to be delivered to President Bush by Sept. 8. The president then can decide to accept or reject the list in its entirety.

The consolidation of laboratories would provide greater synergy across technical disciplines, according to the Pentagon, and create an annual savings of $41 million a year after moving costs are paid over four years.

Pearce said those projected savings don’t seem realistic.
Although the proposal calls for 178 jobs to be moved, which would include the lab’s entire work force, the proposal calls for leaving a minimum detachment to maintain the test and evaluation functions.

The exact number is still being worked out, said Brig. Gen. Robert P. Reese, White Sands commander.

“They’ll keep whatever size team here we need to continue our testing, so we don’t believe that … any programs will fail to test at White Sands,” Reese said. “Our goal is to change as necessary to remain relevant and ready.”

Pearce said living and operating costs would be higher in Maryland.

At a hearing last week in Clovis, state officials asked BRAC commissioners to take the lab move off the list.

Commissioner Philip Coyle acknowledged some of the lab’s testing would require open spaces available only at White Sands, which might require some staff to travel from Maryland back to New Mexico.

Moving the lab would also cost New Mexico State University about $10 million a year in research grants, said Don Birx, director of the school’s Physical Science Laboratory. “That’s about 7 percent of the university’s total,” he said.

“The work that ARL (Army Research Laboratory) is doing is some of the most advanced that is going on at White Sands Missile Range,” Birx said. “It’s a very significant part of the research at NMSU.”

All of the jobs at the lab are filled locally, Reese said.

“That’s one of the reasons why losing an element like ARL is difficult for a community like ours,” he said.

Pearce said he would continue to fight for keeping the laboratory at White Sands and would, if necessary, step up recruiting to bring more jobs to the area.

“Only 15 percent of these cases are ever reversed, so we know its a very steep hill we have to climb,” he said.