The U.S. Army plans to reduce its fighting force by nearly 80,000 soldiers by 2017, even as the overall population at Fort Meade continues to increase.
Members of the Fort Meade community on Thursday expressed concern about these planned force reductions, which come at a time when other agencies at the installation are expanding.
“I don’t know how our garrison commander does what he does, but it’s getting to the point where he can’t,” said Claire Louder, chair of the Fort Meade Community Covenant Council and president of the West Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce.
Louder and others took part in a “listening session” with Army officials, who outlined plans to reduce troops from a peak of 570,000 in 2010 to 490,00 by the end of 2017. The cuts are required under the 2011 Budget Control Act, but are not related to the other recent cuts to government spending.
The Army force reductions coincide with considerable growth at Fort Meade from nearly 100 other tenant agencies, including the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command. Fort Meade advocates said the growth of other agencies has led to the perception that the Army no longer plays a key role at the installation.
“There doesn’t seem to be a recognition by the Army of the significance of Fort Meade,” said Robert Leib, who serves as Anne Arundel County’s liaison for the installation. “We don’t see a lot of support surrounding the Army garrison, and that’s a big concern to us.”
Fort Meade’s workforce population was about 35,000 in 2004 and was more than 51,000 at the end of 2012. Unlike many other Army installations, civilian defense workers make up a larger presence of that total. Fort Meade averages 39,000 civilians and 12,000 military members in its population.
Thursday’s session included comments from Maj. Gen. Michael Linnington, commander of the Military District of Washington, who acknowledged the uniqueness of Fort Meade.
“That is a significant consideration,” he said.
Army budget figures show that Fort Meade lags behind other installations in terms of the amount of money set aside for garrison operations. Fort Meade’s garrison budget dropped from $138,292,334 to $95,904,400 between fiscal year 2011 and 2012, while five other comparable bases saw increases or only modest declines. Of the five other bases of comparable size, four received twice as much money as Fort Meade in fiscal year 2012.
Community leaders also said Fort Meade’s growth has not come with money for infrastructure in the surrounding area and said they’d like to see greater clarification on the role of “shared services agreements,” between installations and nearby communities. Those agreements, while permitted, have not been put in place because of a lack of guidelines for how they should be implemented, Louder said.