U.S. MILITARY Rumsfeld: Base closings to help fund war on terror
The cuts likely will not be as deep as earlier expected.
WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld argues that closing or consolidating some of the 425 stateside military bases could save $7 billion annually -- money that would be better spent improving fighting capabilities amid terrorist threats.
The Pentagon plans to shut down or scale back some of the facilities, the first such effort to save money in 10 years. The downsizing is part of Rumsfeld's long-term transformation of the Cold War-era military.
"The department continues to maintain more military bases and facilities than are needed, consuming and diverting valuable personnel and resources," Rumsfeld recently told lawmakers.
Shrinking the domestic network of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps bases is a certain source of savings. It also is a high-stakes political fight because it affects local economies in congressional districts.
Lawmakers have resisted efforts to shutter their bases, challenging past base closing rounds and lobbying hard to keep their installation off the final list.
"It's the perfect example of good policy and good politics not fitting in the same room together," said Christopher Hellman, an analyst with the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation in Washington.
"Conceptually, lawmakers buy the argument that base closures are important to make sure they are spending resources wisely. But they are reticent of closing bases in their cities because of job losses," Hellman said.
Rumsfeld has estimated that extra base capacity is at nearly 25 percent. But Republican lawmakers said the secretary recently told them that the cuts will not be as deep, in part because the military needs a home for 70,000 troops returning from Europe.
The Pentagon says that all domestic bases are under consideration, but clearly some are more vulnerable than others.
Topping the list are aging facilities, small bases used by only one of the four services and large installations whose missions, training, ammunition or weapons are outdated.
The Northeast is home to many bases configured to defend against the Soviet threat. They could absorb the biggest hit now that many former Soviet bloc nations are U.S. allies.
Congress authorized the fifth round of Base Realignment and Closure -- commonly known as BRAC -- last year. The first deadline in the yearlong process is March 15, when President Bush must name a nine-member commission that will review a list of closures that Rumsfeld will propose by May.
Congressional leaders have submitted their six recommendations. Bush will make his three choices known shortly.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., selected retired Gen. John G. Coburn, a former Army deputy chief of staff, and retired Navy Adm. Harold W. Gehman Jr., a former supreme allied commander of the Atlantic.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., offered former Rep. James V. Hansen, R-Utah, and former Transportation Secretary Samuel Skinner.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada picked former Democratic Rep. James Bilbray, D-Nev. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., recommended Phillip E. Coyle, a former Pentagon official and a defense researcher.
As the process gets under way, lawmakers and communities are stepping up efforts to show their bases are essential. They also are lobbying for new missions and projects for their facilities to make the bases less attractive for closure.
In the Mahoning Valley, a grass-roots campaign known as Operation: Save Our Airbase Reservists (SOAR) is under way to keep the Youngstown Air Reserve Station off the closure list because of the facility's importance to the local economy.
The base is the fifth largest employer in the Valley and pumps more than $100 million a year into the Northeast Ohio-Western Pennsylvania economy. It employs more than 2,400 reservists, civilians and contractors in full-time or part-time positions. And it is responsible for the creation of more than 700 off-base jobs.
The air base is Ohio's second largest military facility and is home to the 910th Airlift Wing of the Air Force Reserve and Marine and Navy units. The wing is the largest reserve owned C-130 unit with 16 aircraft.
Congress authorized the closures last year, rejecting a delay until 2007. Still, some Republicans and Democrats continue to fight.
"I will try to stop it at any point and in any way I possibly can," said Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss. Closing bases while the country is at war is "the worst possible timing," Lott said.
He lobbied hard during previous rounds to keep open the Meridian Naval Air Station in Mississippi, which barely escaped closure. It could be targeted again this year.
Other lawmakers say the round will go forward.
"We had a debate. We voted. We had a majority say we're going forward. How could you possibly reverse it? It would be crazy," said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.