Successful lobby shops build on BRAC victories

Some high-powered Washington lobbying shops are banking on their freshly collected laurels to get even more business from the communities that hired them to get military bases off the Pentagon’s chopping block.

As the independent Base Closure and Realignment (BRAC) Commission is getting ready to send its final deliberations to President Bush on Sept. 8, lobbyists are monitoring the BRAC process here in Washington while corralling communities to extend their contracts.

Some high-powered Washington lobbying shops are banking on their freshly collected laurels to get even more business from the communities that hired them to get military bases off the Pentagon’s chopping block.

As the independent Base Closure and Realignment (BRAC) Commission is getting ready to send its final deliberations to President Bush on Sept. 8, lobbyists are monitoring the BRAC process here in Washington while corralling communities to extend their contracts.

“They have done well in BRAC, and we [want] to continue the momentum because the Department of Defense is making many changes,” said John Simmons, a senior adviser at law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP.

The Pentagon is undertaking a sweeping review of capabilities, called the quadrennial defense review.

A boon in business for the Washington lobbying shops can come from a whole range of issues, from defense appropriations to military construction, such as new technology centers and housing for those bases that are receiving more troops.

Among Washington lobbying shops scoring large victories for their clients are the Rhoads Group and Kutak Rock LLP, which represented Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota; the Washington Group, which defended the Naval Submarine Base New London in Connecticut; Patton Boggs, which represented the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Maine; Akin Gump, which worked for the states of New York, Kansas, Maryland and Arkansas; and Spectrum Group, which represented the state of Louisiana and a large Defense Finance and Accounting Service center in Cleveland.

“We are up to speed on [the communities’] issues as part of BRAC, as we argued their military value. They are comfortable with us, and we are going to compete for more contracts,” Simmons told The Hill.

Because no other BRAC round is planned yet, the success of a lobbying firm in the 2005 BRAC round can lead to representation of defense issues for installation-related matters, said Jim Noone, a lobbyist with the Washington Group, a Ketchum company.

“Getting BRAC residual business is down the road,” said Noone, who was part of the team representing New London, Conn.

While several lobbying shops contacted by The Hill said that they did not receive so-called “success fees” for their work on BRAC, Keith Ashdown with Taxpayers for Common Sense said that it is possible for these firms to have an understanding with the communities to be retained for several more years.

Akin Gump, which worked with the lobbying group Hyjek and Fix to represent a number of states and communities in this BRAC round and has achieved a 100 percent success rate for its clients, according to Simmons.

The lobby consortium represented the state of New York, the state of Kansas, three communities in Maryland, the Alliance of Pine Bluff, Ark., and the state of New Mexico.

Maryland is one of the largest gainers in BRAC, and it is in Maryland that the firm has its eyes on further representation. Akin Gump represented the Navy Alliance at Indian Head, Md., the Southern Maryland Navy Alliance at Patuxent River, Md., and Harford County.

The community at Indian Head is planning to build an energetics center in proximity to the University of Maryland, which has a strong program in energetics, Simmons said. The Indian Head alliance already spent upward of $290,000 in lobbying fees since 2003.

With the Navy’s budget unpredictable in the future, Patuxent River will also have to continue its legislative presence, said Simmons.

“This is something they need to meet about, but we were told that they were interested,” Simmons said. The southern Maryland alliance also hired the PMA Group to lobby for its defense interests.

Meanwhile, Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico, which was slated for closure, will stay open until 2009. The BRAC Commission directed the Pentagon to evaluate its need for the base.

“It could be the home of the future Airborne Laser Program,” Simmons said, hinting at potential lobbying material for the firm.

Kansas, projected to receive thousands of new soldiers at several installations, may need to continue its military counsel, said Simmons. “That is something that they would be discussing later this fall,” he said. “We would compete for that contract.”

New York state has the longest-standing relationship with Hyjek and Fix and Akin Gump. Hyjek and Fix has been representing New York communities’ interest since 1998.
Akin Gump won a contract two years ago to represent New York state interests. The state was reeling from previous base closures, Simmons said, and was trying not to repeat mistakes.

According to lobbying disclosures, the Empire State Development Co. paid $520,000 in lobbying fees to Akin Gump by the end of 2004.
The Niagara Area Chamber of Commerce spent $380,000 in fees to Hyjek and Fix up to the end of 2004. Disclosures for 2005 are not yet available, and the companies refused to reveal their fees.

“New York was set to lose more than 1,000 jobs, had the DoD recommendations been adopted,” Simmons said. “As a result of the BRAC decisions, the state will gain more than 1,000 jobs.”

Punching power comes with a certain price tag. Former Rep. Bill Paxon (R-N.Y.), who was chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee and is now a senior adviser at Akin Gump, represented the interests of New York.