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A Call to Economic Conversion

by Michael Closson 06-01-1992
Economic conversion of the talent and technology in the military sector is a key aspect of reinvesting in the future.

Not a few people recognized the irony in the trip to Russia last fall by Deputy Secretary of Defense Donald Atwood. The Russians face the challenge of converting their military production establishment to civilian pursuits. Atwood's visit was to encourage and offer support for that daunting transition process.

The irony of the trip, of course, lies in the fact that while the Bush administration is willing to aid and abet economic conversion in the former Soviet Union, it is stonewalling federal conversion planning efforts here in the United States.

A recent Office of Technology Assessment report, "After the Cold War: Living With Lower Defense Spending," projects that direct job loss from Pentagon cutbacks will average 275,000 per year between 1991 and 1995. Already substantial cuts are under way. For example, Los Angeles County alone lost 38,000 defense jobs in 1991.

How is Washington, D.C., responding to this serious economic dislocation? Very inadequately, indeed!

In October 1990, Congress passed and the president signed very modest economic adjustment legislation that allocated $200 million for assistance to laid-off defense workers and military-dependent communities hit by the closure of military bases and defense plants. That amount of money is a drop in the bucket when measured against the need for assistance. But due to bureaucratic resistance in the Department of Commerce, very little of it has thus far been expended.