New Jersey hires PR pro in effort to prevent cuts at military facilities

     President Barack Obama waves to troops and their families assembled at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in December. The Pentagon could trim operations at the installation in Wrightstown, New Jersey. (AP file photo)

    President Barack Obama waves to troops and their families assembled at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in December. The Pentagon could trim operations at the installation in Wrightstown, New Jersey. (AP file photo)

    With the growing possibility that the Pentagon might scale back U.S. military installations in New Jersey, the state has awarded a nearly $200,000 lobbying contract to a Washington, D.C., firm.

    Barry Rhoads, former Army colonel and longtime military lobbyist, will lead the charge with the firm Cassidy & Associates, which, in 2010, acquired Rhoads’ own firm that focused on defense and homeland security advocacy.

    Pentagon officials estimate the U.S. military footprint is at least 25 percent larger than it needs to be, according to Military Times. Trimming infrastructure by just 5 percent could result in $2 billion in savings, they said.

    Last week, Katherine Hammack, the assistant secretary of Army installations, told a congressional committee that another round of base realignment and closures is sorely needed.

    “Even as demand for Army forces is growing, budget cuts are forcing us to reduce end strength and base support to dangerously low levels,” Hammack said. “We face a mismatch between requirements and resources.”

    Meanwhile, studies have demonstrated that New Jersey’s military facilities generate billions in annual revenue. Statewide, according to a study by Rutgers University, 73,000 people are employed at military bases.

    New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney said at a time when other states are spending big money on public relations’ efforts to save military bases, New Jersey has no other choice.

    Acknowledging that “$200,000 is nothing to sneeze at,” Sweeney said, “but when you’re competing against states that are spending millions to keep their bases open, to tell their story, this is about jobs, about the economy. We can’t afford to not be in the game.”

    What will the yearlong $200,000 contract fund exactly? Providing New Jersey lawmakers with information about what to expect, what to say and how best to fend off cuts at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst about 15 miles from Trenton in Wrightstown.

    During the last round of base cutbacks in 2005 and three times in the 1990s, Rhoads’ team was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to lobby for New Jersey.

    Rhoads’ efficacy is a matter of debate, but his supporters say without him, the cuts would have been much deeper.

    Rhoads wouldn’t comment for this story since the firm hasn’t yet gone public with the contract.

    According to contract documents, however, Rhoads will do an economic impact study and show how the Joint base and four other bases are “instrumental” to national security.

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