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Bush closes military bases across country { March 20 2005 }

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March 20, 2005
States and Communities Battling Another Round of Base Closings

WASHINGTON, March 19 - For the first time in a decade, communities across the country are bracing for a major round of military base closings, and they are mounting aggressive lobbying campaigns to stave off cuts and other changes that some independent experts say could dwarf the previous four rounds combined.

Pentagon officials say all 425 domestic bases are under scrutiny, as the military looks to squeeze efficiencies and billions of dollars in savings from a cold-war network that has nearly 25 percent more capacity than what the armed services say they need.

After more than two years of exhaustive study, Pentagon analysts are putting the finishing touches on a list of recommendations that Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld will present to a nine-member independent commission for review. Scores of Pentagon analysts and auditors have been poring over data and dozens of options as part of an effort that is intended to mesh with Mr. Rumsfeld's broader goals to make the military more agile and responsive to security threats.

"We know we have too much," Philip W. Grone, the deputy under secretary of defense for installations and environment, said in an interview. "We know that we have capacity in the wrong place, either over or under. We're not well matched to the mission need."

State officials are rushing to preserve their installations, which provide thousands of jobs and billions of dollars to local and state economies. Florida, under Gov. Jeb Bush, has a $50,000-a-month contract with a consulting team that includes Dick Armey, the former House majority leader, and William S. Cohen, the former defense secretary.

Military officials assert that the Pentagon has no preconceived notions about which bases to close or consolidate, or the amount of annual savings. But senior military officials say the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines are likely to end up sharing more bases, laboratories, depots and training ranges in an approach consistent with Mr. Rumsfeld's philosophy that the armed services should fight and operate jointly.

One prominent military analyst, Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute, said the military's excess industrial capacity made bases like the Army's Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois and the Watervliet Arsenal in New York, and the Marine Corps' logistics center in Albany, Ga., ripe for realignment. Such bases, while not widely known, employ large numbers of civilians.

Mr. Rumsfeld will submit his list of recommended base closings, consolidations and realignments to the commission by May 16. A final roster of cuts and other changes, prepared by the commission, is due Sept. 8. Previous base-closing commissions have endorsed 85 percent of the Pentagon's recommendations. President Bush and Congress must then accept or reject the list by Nov. 7.

The Senate this week approved Anthony J. Principi, a former secretary of veterans affairs, as head of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, widely known as the Brac. The White House also nominated the other eight members, which includes two retired four-star officers and two former congressmen.

The four previous rounds of base closures, in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995, eliminated 97 bases and several hundred smaller facilities, and reduced overall capacity by 20 percent. These changes yielded savings of $28.9 billion through 2003, with recurring savings of $7 billion annually after that, according to the Government Accountability Office. This is the last scheduled round of closings, under the current model begun in the late 1980's, putting even more pressure on the decisions to come.

Adding to the uncertainty of this year's round are the open-ended military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon's plans to bring 70,000 troops and 100,000 dependents in Europe back to bases in the United States, and a sweeping review of the military's strategy, forces and missions as required by Congress every four years.

"It's a new paradigm: we're at war and we're bringing people back," said Chris Kelley Cimko, a former Senate and base-closing commission official who is a member of a panel to save bases in Virginia. "Have they been able to account for all of the thinking they're going to have to do to be effective in the future, and to have what might be the mother of all Brac rounds?"

Mr. Rumsfeld last week offered comfort to some communities fearing closings, saying the large number of returning troops could soften the blow. Some bases may even expand with the troops' return. "The number of bases that might be closed or adjusted downward in some way will be considerably fewer because we already have solved the problem of what we're going to bring back," Mr. Rumsfeld told the House Armed Services Committee. Legislators, lobbyists and consultants are ramping up campaigns, some of which have been two years in the works, to protect bases.

In Florida, Governor Bush and the state's Congressional delegation are waging a campaign to protect 21 installations that generate $44 billion a year for the economy, behind only tourism and agriculture in the state.

In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed a California Council on Base Support and Retention, whose co-chairman is Leon Panetta, the former Democratic congressman and White House chief of staff. Mr. Schwarzenegger has also hired Clark & Weinstock, a Washington consulting firm headed by the former congressmen Vic Fazio and Vin Weber, to help protect California's military installations. Of California's 91 major bases in operation when the base closings began in 1988, 29 have been closed or realigned.

During a recent conference of the National Governors Association in Washington, several governors, including George E. Pataki of New York, took part in a series of meetings with Pentagon officials to make pitches for their bases.

Gov. Ernie Fletcher of Kentucky has dedicated $660,000 from the 2004 to 2006 budgets to promote and preserve military installations in the state, including Fort Knox, which some state officials fear is vulnerable. In an effort to make her state's bases less vulnerable to closing, Gov. Christine Gregoire of Washington plans to propose next week that the state set aside $10 million over two years to help repair or replace infrastructure around bases and to buy private property near bases to ensure an adequate buffer zone.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers are lining up behind their installations. Last Wednesday, the Texas Congressional delegation summoned Mr. Grone and his top aides to voice support for the state's 17 bases and 150 smaller facilities, including Ingleside Naval Station, Goodfellow Air Force Base, and the Red River Army Depot, all of which survived previous closings but are considered vulnerable.

The process has generated anger among some lawmakers who say the Pentagon should not be considering closing bases when the nation is at war. Senator Trent Lott, Republican of Mississippi, in an op-ed article in USA Today this month, called the base-closing commission "a Congressional cop-out" that depends on "a paranoia-driven process that wastes time and money."

Proponents of the base-closing process say that since 1988, 107,000 jobs have been created in the communities where installations were closed or realigned.

Lawmakers and community leaders are searching for clues for what the Pentagon considers the most vulnerable bases, but any leaks of information have all but dried up because hundreds of military and Pentagon employees working on the process have been required to sign oaths of secrecy.

"Far more than in the past, I think it is impossible to predict what will be on the list," said David Berteau, a consultant for Clark & Weinstock and a former Pentagon official whose responsibilities included overseeing base closings.

The bulk of the analysis in the Pentagon is being carried out by seven groups of military and civilian officials who are organized to focus on these pivotal functions or organizations: industrial activities, supply and storage, headquarters and support, education, intelligence, medical and training.

The Pentagon teams are using several criteria to assess a base's value, including the base's mission, cost savings, availability of land and air space, and economic impact on local communities, aides said.

"The outcome of Brac is going to be determined based upon a very extensive analytical effort that is examining capacity issues and military value issues and then the economics of the change," Adm. Vern Clark, the chief of naval operations, told reporters in January. "In other words, I'm not remotely interested in changes that don't produce money."

In this round, Pentagon officials said, the Defense Department is looking at more shared or consolidated basing arrangements, either for cost savings or operational reasons. This could involve merging contiguous bases like Fort Bragg in North Carolina, headquarters of the 82nd Airborne Division, and Pope Air Force Base. Under some situations, Marine or Navy aircraft could fly from Air Force bases.

It has been 10 years since the last batch of base closings, largely because Republicans accused President Bill Clinton of politicizing the 1995 round when he objected to the commission's decisions to close maintenance depots at McClellan Air Force Base in California and Kelly Air Force Base in Texas. Republicans said the administration was seeking to curry favor with voters in those big states by preserving those jobs. In the end, Mr. Clinton grudgingly approved the list.

In part because of that controversy, the rules were changed to require seven of the nine panel members to agree to any proposed additions to the defense secretary's list. A simple majority of its members may preserve a base that is a target of Mr. Rumsfeld.

Congress created the base-closing process in the late 1980's as the military reduced in size in response to the collapse of the Soviet Union. With Congress unable to agree on which bases should be closed, a bipartisan Congressional group proposed turning the selections over to an independent commission.

Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

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