GAO: Base will be short workers

The Government Accountability Office report released Wednesday said expected retirements and the current rate of hiring meant the Army might take until 2016 to fill about 5,100 positions at Aberdeen Proving Ground, and until 2024 for the newest hires to become fully proficient — risking the organization’s ability to provide the same level of service to U.S. soldiers after Monmouth’s move is complete.

“It’s exactly what we’ve been saying all along,” said John Poitras, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 1904. The union’s bid to reverse the decision to close the base was dismissed by the U.S. District Court in Trenton, N.J., which said the union did not have legal standing.

Poitras said the danger of disrupting Monmouth’s mission violates a condition in lawmakers’ 2005 decision to close the base.

“They made a caveat on the [Base Realignment and Closure] decision saying there could not be a blip on the radar when the move happened,” he said.

GAO report author Brian Lepore said he based its estimates on Monmouth’s current hiring efforts, which began as early as 2000, when officials realized more than half of the base’s civilian workers would be eligible for retirement by 2011.

Surveys at Monmouth have reported at least half of the personnel would choose retirement over relocation.

Maryland officials remained confident the state’s existing work force could be harnessed to fill the jobs.

“There is a concern right now, but I think we’re going to be in good shape when the time comes,” said Andrew Moser, assistant secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

He said Maryland has established a “one-stop shop” in New Jersey to assist workers in moving to Maryland. In his most recent visit to his native New Jersey, Moser said that “attitudes are changing the more they learn about Maryland,” as the shops are seeing about 150 people a week.

Maryland Reps. Elijah Cummings, Roscoe Bartlett and C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger did not return repeated requests for comment Thursday. Some lawmakers were out of state for conferences.

Cummings and Bartlett are on the House Armed Services Committee, which requested the report.

Poitras said he has proposed pushing back the deadline for the fort’s closure to 2015, giving new recruits more time to be trained and encouraging retirement-eligible employees to stay on slightly longer and pass along their experience.

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