Pentagon to propose a single round of base closings for 2003
WASHINGTON (AP) – The Pentagon will propose to Congress that an independent commission meet in 2003 to conduct one final round of military base closures and consolidations, a government official said Wednesday.
Since the last round of closures in 1995, Congress has refused repeated requests by the Pentagon to close additional bases, even though the military services say they are wasting money on surplus installations.
The Pentagon said Pete Aldridge, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, would announce the proposal Thursday. The Pentagon did not provide any details in advance, but one official familiar with the proposal said Aldridge had informed Congress of some details Wednesday.
The official, who discussed the matter on condition of anonymity, said the Pentagon plans to review every military base and has established detailed criteria for measuring an installation’s military value. This appeared to mean that the Pentagon would not exclude in advance any base from the review.
Some in Congress had suggested excluding some bases deemed essential so that communities in those areas would not be subjected to the uncertainties that come with the threat of losing a source of economic vitality.
The Pentagon intended to submit legislation Thursday amending the procedure followed during the most recent base closing review, in 1995. The legislation calls for Congress to create a commission whose nine members would be appointed by President Bush in consultation with Congress, the official said.
In previous rounds of base closures, a portion of the commission’s members were chosen by the president and the rest by Congress.
Under the new proposal, the Pentagon in March 2003 would submit to the commission its recommendations for which bases to close or realign, and the commission would have until July 1 to submit its decisions to Bush.
The president would have until July 31 to either accept or reject the commission’s findings, but he could not alter them. If he rejected the findings, the commission could revise them only once. If Bush rejected the revised findings, then the process would be halted and no bases would be closed, the official said.
If Bush accepted the commission’s findings, he would have until September to submit them to Congress, which in turn would have 45 days to reject them. If Congress took no action, the findings would become law.
Once the decisions were final, the Pentagon would have two years to implement them and six years to complete the closures and consolidations.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said repeatedly that the Pentagon needs to close some bases to save money needed for other purposes such as weapons modernization and housing improvements. He recently told Congress that the military has 20 percent to 25 percent too much base capacity.
In comments to reporters Wednesday, the Air Force chief of staff, Gen. Michael Ryan, said his service badly wants to close and consolidate air bases. Ryan said the Air Force has 10 percent to 20 percent more base capacity than it needs, but he did not single out any as candidates for closure.
Ryan said Congress in recent years has tied the military’s hands by refusing to permit more base closures and consolidations.
”For us it is gridlock,” he said. ”If I want to move an airplane from one location to another to get efficient, doing that is nigh onto impossible” as long as Congress refuses to allow more adjustments.
On Capitol Hill, Rep. James Hansen, R-Utah, predicted the House and Senate would approve the Pentagon’s request for a round of base closings in 2003, but lawmakers of both parties on the House Armed Services Committee questioned administration arguments that base closings save money.
”We shouldn’t assume the savings are there,” said Rep. Joe Scarborough, R-Fla. ”We have done it four times and it hasn’t saved us any money.”
Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., said he opposes creating another commission to decide which bases to close. He said Defense Department officials should make the case to Congress directly.
There have been four rounds of base closings since 1988.
On the Net: Department of Defense: http://www.defenselink.mil
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