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Lt. Gov. Duffy meets with Owens on defense cuts

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WASHINGTON — Lt. Gov. Robert J. Duffy is playing defense in Washington.

With military spending cuts looming in the next year and the threat of base closures beyond then, Mr. Duffy is visiting with New York lawmakers to discuss how to protect the state’s installations.

Mr. Duffy met with Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, on Tuesday. Meetings also were planned with Rep. Richard L. Hanna. R-Barneveld, and with Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., today.

“We’re very concerned about some of the projected cuts and the impact they would have on New York state,” Mr. Duffy said after meeting with Mr. Owens. “These areas have taken so many hits over the years.”

The lieutenant governor, on behalf of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, is working with lawmakers to protect Fort Drum, Rome Labs and other military installations as Congress mulls the Defense Department’s request for two base closure rounds. Officials say they are especially concerned about National Guard and Reserve facilities in the state.

Base closures could come in 2014 and 2017, but the proposals have gained little support in Congress.

More immediately, the Defense Department has proposed a cut of $487 billion in its fiscal 2012 budget, and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has said every state will be affected. With the Army planning to eliminate brigades and slash tens of thousands of uniformed positions over the next five years, lawmakers are watching for signs of how many fewer soldiers might be stationed at Fort Drum. As of now, 19,605 soldiers are stationed there.

On the other hand, cuts proposed so far would hit the reserves harder than the active-duty force, said Mrs. Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Further cuts or base closures could be “devastating” to upstate communities if facilities are shut, she said in an interview in her Capitol Hill office.

Officials are particularly concerned about the Air Force Research Laboratory in Rome — an issue Mr. Duffy was to discuss with Mr. Hanna — because it was targeted for a $30 million cut in the proposed budget and might appear vulnerable in base closures.

The next fiscal year begins Oct. 1. Further deep cuts are possible next year if Congress does not reach a deal on deficit reduction, possibly equal to the cuts already proposed — but in areas that defense officials say would affect readiness.

Mr. Owens said he and Mr. Duffy agreed that the governor’s office and the state’s congressional delegation should work together on the issue. And he said he relayed to Mr. Duffy his belief that Fort Drum supporters should hire a consultant to prepare for BRAC.

Ultimately, Mr. Owens said, Fort Drum may benefit from an expanded mission and possibly more personnel, should other installations be trimmed.

Mrs. Gillibrand said Fort Drum, as an active-duty post, is protected from some of the deepest cuts. But with the Air National Guard and Reserve planning to retire aircraft at Hancock Air National Guard Base in Syracuse and other locations, installations in New York may be endangered, she said.

The senator, who has pressed the White House and the Pentagon to reconsider cuts to the Guard and Reserve, said the government actually saves money by relying on them, citing a study by the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Military officials have told Congress that the Guard and Reserves are more efficient than the active-duty forces, comprising about 7 percent of the Army and Air Force budget last year, for example, while providing up to 40 percent of the forces.

Reservists cost less, as well, because they are paid only during their activation and do not draw as much in health insurance and other benefits, officials have said.

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