Rock Island base included in Army scrutiny of supply system - Quad-Cities Online: Illinois

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Rock Island base included in Army scrutiny of supply system

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Posted: Monday, September 28, 1998 1:00 am

ROCK ISLAND, Ill. (AP) -- From tool kits to small arms, the military's most fundamental equipment has rolled off the factory floors of Rock Island Arsenal.

The arsenal's workforce of more than 6,000 civilians has one of the most basic jobs in the military: supply.

Now, the Army is in the midst of a massive review of the $7.3 billion Army Materiel Command, with the aim of streamlining departments, consolidating missions -- and cutting jobs.

Unions fearful of layoffs and congressmen with supply bases in their districts are concerned -- not only for the potential job losses, they say, but any impact the ``streamlining'' may have on the military's readiness.

What good is a tank, they say, with a broken tread?

The review of the Army Materiel Command encompasses dozens of bases in the United States and overseas. Decisions based on this review could ultimately affect every site, said Lt. Col. Lew Boone, a Pentagon spokesman.

``We're looking at the AMC in the whole as an organization. That's all of the areas under the AMC command, all the core components, agencies and sub-commands,'' Boone said.

The plan is to slim the so-called ``corporate'' structure of the supply operation that lies behind the combat soldiers, sailors and airmen. For example, the Rock Island Arsenal is part of the Army's Industrial Operations Command, a 20,677-employee group that oversees the Watervliet Arsenal, in New York, and the Pine Bluff Arsenal, in Arkansas.

``A huge chunk of the Department of Defense is just like a private corporation,'' said Steven Kosiak, an analyst with the Center for Budget and Strategic Assessment, a nonpartisan, independent think tank in Washington. The Pentagon ``has this whole structure, buying all sorts of goods and services. And since the end of the Cold War, they've been trying to make that operation more efficient.''

For example, one Army proposal is to merge the Industrial Operations Command with the Tank Automotive and Armaments Command, in Warren, Mich., said Tom Esparza, president of Rock Island's Local 15 of the American Federation of Government Employees.

On flow charts and graphs, it may seem logical to merge the headquarters of two groups with similar manufacturing roles. But Esparza, who represents 1,000 people in Rock Island, said it is much more: the merged command would likely consolidate all the manufacturing jobs at the Michigan plant, cutting as many as 1,050 factory jobs in Rock Island.

Esparza spent three days this week on a whirlwind lobbying tour of Capitol Hill, pressing lawmakers to limit cuts of civilian jobs on military bases.

``Of course the congressmen are worried about jobs in their district, but I think there's more at stake here. We're talking about military readiness,'' Esparza said.

Rep. Lane Evans, a Democrat whose district includes the Rock Island Arsenal, wrote a letter to the Pentagon this week, urging the Army to brings its final recommendations to the House National Security Committee for review. Evans, who is in a tough re-election battle this fall, sits on that committee.

``At this point, the results of the review are purely speculative,'' said Steve Vetzner, an Evans spokesman. A report on the review isn't expected until late October or early November.

But the review is worth scrutinizing, Kosiak said, because past Pentagon cuts have left the military's readiness open to question. Efforts to reduce civilian payrolls through early retirement have gutted Army supply depots of experienced managers -- a valuable war time asset.

Efforts to make the Army's supply arm more like a private company could be misguided, Kosiak warned.

``The Department of Defense is not a private business and in many ways it can never be a private business,'' he said. ``It may not be efficient to maintain extra depots and bases. But in times of war, those overstaffed depots could ramp-up very quickly. If we went to war right away, being just efficient enough to maintain the bases we have in peace time won't be good enough.''

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