LIMESTONE — A congressional staff member who Wednesday toured the Defense Finance and Accounting Service on the former Loring Air Force Base said he was impressed by the facility.
“It think it’s an excellent facility,” said Lawrence Lanzillotta, a staff member for the Senate Armed Services Committee, after an afternoon at the Limestone center.
Loring is one of 17 DFAS centers across the country that are being evaluated for possible closure. As part of a cost-cutting plan, the government has proposed closing eight facilities within five years.
Because the accounting service is housed in the former base hospital and the building already was owned by the federal government, the operating cost is low to the government, the veteran committee staffer said.
Talking with DFAS employees in Limestone, Lanzillotta found an “enthusiastic group.”
“They believe they are part of the [Aroostook County] community,” he said during a press conference.
The visit by Lanzillotta was requested by Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, a member of the Armed Services Committee, which has oversight of the federal DFAS agency. Lanzillotta is a professional staff member for the committee, specializing in budgetary matters.
The Limestone facility probably won’t be closing for a while if it is chosen to close. The government still must conduct a study on the closings as well as develop criteria to determine which facilities could close, according to Cathy Ferguson, a DFAS spokeswoman in Washington.
In addition, Lanzillotta also said Wednesday that the cost-cutting plan is not expected to be part of the fiscal 1999 budget, scheduled to be presented to Congress next month. As with any issue of significance, there probably will be hearings, Lanzillotta said.
“I am very pleased this visit took place today, because I believe it is critically important that key staff of the Armed Services Committee have personal knowledge of both the national security and economic benefits generated by the Limestone DFAS center,” Snowe said in a prepared statement.
Earlier this month, Snowe wrote to Deputy Defense Secretary John Hamre and cited the Limestone facility’s receipt of the Hammer Award, a presidential award given for effort toward saving the government money. A ceremony will be held next week to present to the award to local DFAS Director Larry Conrad and the employees.
Once touted as the “crown jewel” in the redevelopment effort at the former Loring Air Force Base, the DFAS center has been open for about two years and employs about 325 people.
The military accounting service agency is composed of five major accounting centers and 17 smaller offices, such as Loring. DFAS handles the payroll for the military and also pays vendors for services to the military.
The Wednesday visit was the first and only such inspection to date that has been requested by a member of Congress whose district would be affected by a DFAS closure. Lanzillotta said he has visited other DFAS centers, but not as part of the current closure process.
Lanzillotta will write a report and forward it to Armed Services Committee chairman Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C. As a member of the committee, Snowe will get a copy of the report, Lanzillotta said. The report will include observations, but no recommendations, he said.
Also involved in the DFAS tour and briefing was Brian Hamel, president of the Loring Development Authority of Maine, the agency charged with reusing the former military base.
Lanzillotta was impressed with the facility’s physical plant and its work force, Hamel said. Hamel also said the Limestone DFAS location has been among the top performing facilities in the country.
The exact date of Lanzillotta’s visit was not previously announced to local media as a result of general confusion caused in dealing with the severe ice storm that paralyzed most of Maine. When the Bangor Daily News learned of Lanzillotta’s arrival, local DFAS officials said the visit could not be covered by the press. The press conference was arranged after repeated requests by the NEWS.
Although the media were not included in the tour that Lanzillotta took of the military facility, reporters were allowed to ask Lanzillotta questions afterward.