LIMESTONE — The crown jewel of the Defense Finance and Accounting Service centers across the country was honored Wednesday when the Limestone center received a presidential award for its cost-saving efforts.
Joining in the celebration were three members of Maine’s congressional delegation, who pledged to work to keep open the 2 1/2-year-old DFAS center. The Limestone location is among 17 centers across the country that is being evaluated for possible closing.
The local facility of the DFAS network received the Hammer Award for its work in developing computer programs that retrieve information automatically and eliminate expensive, labor-intensive manual searches. The retrieval system saves about $100,000 annually.
About 325 people work at the facility.
Once touted as the foundation of the redevelopment of the former Loring Air Force Base, the local DFAS has become the “crown jewel” among similar centers across the country, according to Sen. Olympia J. Snowe.
“The needs of DFAS have been a perfect match for Aroostook County,” Snowe said. “Its success is as predictable as snow, and ice, in January.
The state’s senior senator also pledged to “work very hard to send the message that this facility is indispensable.”
Last week, a staff member of the Senate Armed Services Committee visited the Limestone DFAS center at the request of Snowe, who is a commitee member. The senator said Wednesday she was pleased that the staff member “publicly acknowledged” the facility’s efficiency.
Keynote speaker for the event was Steve E. Turner, director of the DFAS center in Denver, which has jurisdiction over the Limestone facility.
Turner said that regardless of Limestone’s remoteness, the distance is irrelevant when current technology is used.
“Work smarter, not harder,” Turner said.
A plaque consisting of a carpenter’s hammer attached to a framed, blue fabric-covered background was presented by Turner to Lawrence Conrad, director of the Limestone center. A smaller framed certificate, signed by Vice President Al Gore, was attached.
Individual certificates and lapel pins shaped like a hammer were presented to more than 30 DFAS employees involved in development of the computer program.
Conrad said he was “confident that this Hammer Award will not be the last that we win.”
The local cost-cutting effort “put the scissors to red tape and the hammer to high costs,” Sen. Susan Collins said.
“As those of us familiar with Limestone DFAS know, the Hammer Award is not only acknowledgment of your creativity, but also a small way for your country to say thank you for your effort,” Collins said.
The senator also promised to work to keep the facility open and even to have the center expanded if others are closed.
U.S. Rep. John Baldacci said that the local DFAS center is a “beacon to Aroostook County and a beacon to the state.”
“For that we have many thanks,” the congressman said.
Attended by more than 300 observers, the ceremony was presented with the usual military order. The colors were posted by Air Force members wearing their dress blue uniform. The national anthem was played and a prayer was offered during the ceremony.
Later, the dignitaries cut a cake decorated with a hammer.