TACOMA – Washington is preparing information that could be used if the Pentagon tries to close military bases in the state.
The state Office of Financial Management has asked for bids for a study of the state’s military resources, the News Tribune reported Wednesday. The state hopes to have a contractor ready to start work by Oct. 9 on a study that could cost up to $300,000.
Washington fared relatively well in the latest round of the Base Closure and Realignment Commission process in 2005. Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base were merged into a joint base that is now one of the largest in the nation.
A state Economic Development Commission report said that in 2009 the military payroll in Washington topped $7.9 billion with 103,000 military and civilian Defense Department employees.
“As the military shifts, we want to put the best foot forward for the state of Washington,” said Rep. Adam Smith, D-Tacoma, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee. “We want a study to show here’s how we want to maintain the bases and personnel we have, and maybe gain some more.”
Smith attended the first meeting on Aug. 24 of the Washington Military Alliance, which brought together Gov. Chris Gregoire, congressmen, state lawmakers and regional advocacy groups.
They include economic development teams from Pierce and Thurston counties near Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Spokane near Fairchild Air Force Base, and Navy communities from Whidbey Island to Bremerton to Everett.
“It’s an opportunity to make sure Washington is in the best position as the Defense Department starts making budget decisions,” said John Lane, an executive adviser to Gregoire on military issues.
Jason Mercier, director of the Washington Policy Center’s government reform center, characterized the alliance as a group of elected and government officials who were planning to spend state money to influence the Pentagon’s decisions.
He learned of the military alliance and the spending on the study when the Office of Financial Management published its request for bids.
“Nobody’s done anything wrong on this, because the money’s been appropriated and the governor has the authority to form committees she wants,” Mercier said. “But, because you have a quarter-million dollars going to lobby the federal government, you want to have some public notification.”
The military alliance meetings won’t be closed to the public in the future, but it’s not clear whether they’ll be advertised.
The Pentagon is cutting at least $487 billion in projected spending over the next 10 years. The size of the Army is expected to fall to 490,000 soldiers from 562,000. The Marine Corps is to shrink by 20,000 Marines to 182,000.
More cuts are expected, but it’s not clear when or how they might be adopted.
Smith and other lawmakers on defense committees have said Washington is in a strong position because the Pentagon intends to place a greater emphasis on Pacific threats in coming years.
A new Pentagon-commissioned report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies suggests Army units at Lewis-McChord would participate in frequent exercises with Asian allies and possibly undertake regular deployments to bolster units stationed in South Korea.