Wednesday, December 01, 2004

 

NPR Piece On Base Closure.

National Public Radio's All Things Considered did a brief piece yesterday on the potential closure of Los Angeles Air Force Base, my old alma mater. You can listen to the audio here.

Huh? L.A. has an Air Force Base?

Yup-- no runways or anything, but it's home to the Space and Missile Systems Center, where the development and procurement of Air Force space systems is conducted.

The NPR piece is an excellent summary. Although it doesn't quote an Air Force rep, it covers all the bases, no pun intended.

L.A. has been on every Base Realignment And Closure (BRAC) list since Congress began the BRAC process back in the early 1990's, during post-Cold War drawdown. The base has usually managed to survive in spite of itself-- given its low-profile within California, it's generally been ignored by the heavy hitters in the state government, let alone local residents.

However, as we head into *another* BRAC round, L.A. will most certainly be on the list again. The alternatives to keeping L.A. open involve relocating the activities to Air Force Space Command in Colorado Springs, or possibly out to Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico (home to the Air Force Research Lab).

The NPR piece captures the main argument made by the Air Force against such a move: the potential loss of human capital.

If the base closes, all the military folks will move, no big deal. The major aerospace corporations all have a presence in Colorado, and airfare is cheap, so even they would probably survive the move.

The big stumbling block here is the storehouse in the South Bay of what's known as SETA, or Systems Engineering and Technical Assistance, personnel. These are the thousands of civilians and consultants who work at L.A. Air Force Base, or for the Aerospace Corporation, the Federally-Funded Research & Development Corporation next door.

A lot of these engineers and scientists are nearing retirement age, without a lot of new college graduates in the pipeline to replace them. They're married, with families. I've seen all the studies that show just how many would rather retire, or enter a new line of work, than relocate to another state. The numbers are pretty high, and represent a significant "hidden cost" to any relocation.

As an aside, given how many times the base has been on the short list for closure, the facilities at the base were neglected. No need to modernize the office space if you're just going to end up moving, right? Well, in the past few years the base has undertaken a new development effort to replace the run-down old buildings (some of them close to fifty years old, and in very poor shape). The Air Force managed to finance a lot of it by trading excess property to a developer in return for the new construction.

Given the upcoming BRAC round, it will be interesting to see how the new construction plays into the debate. Will the previous arguments in favor of keeping Los Angeles open be enough, or will Congress ignore them this time? Will Congress be willing to shut down a base with all-new construction in place-- at minimal cost to the government-- in order to relocate the base functions to a new location, ergo requiring all-new construction somewhere else, at a greater cost?

Hey, it's not like the U.S. Government ever paid twice the price to get half the capability, now is it?

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