San Diego Union-Tribune

December 23, 2001

Delay, hurdles part of military base-closing bill

By Otto Kreisher
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

ANALYSIS

WASHINGTON -- Although Congress has reluctantly authorized
another round of military base closings, it forced a delay and
imposed conditions that could make it harder to close excess
facilities or derail the process.

And die-hard opponents of base closings still hope to torpedo
the process before it gets under way in March 2005.

But supporters believe the delay and the new requirements
could help the Pentagon do a better job in selecting bases to
close and help communities soften the blow of expected
closures.

"The good news is that they did it. . . . The bad news is the
two-year extra delay," Ken Beeks said last week. "That means two
more years wasting resources on bases we don't need."

It also could mean, "since they have extra time to do the
process, they can get this right," said Beeks, a vice president at
Business Executives for National Security, a leading advocate for
base closing.

Beeks urged communities with "under-utilized" bases to take
advantage of new rules that allow leasing of excess military
facilities for commercial use, before 2005. That would ease the
pain of converting bases to civilian use if they are closed, he
said.

But the delay in starting the closure process also means "there
will be ample time for Congress to revisit this issue again . . .
before any action is taken," said Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., a
vocal base closing opponent.

The Pentagon has argued for five years that it has 20 percent to
25 percent excess base infrastructure, which wastes more than
$3 billion a year.

But it took President Bush's threat to veto the defense
authorization bill to force Congress to approve another closure
round.

The authorization, however, delayed the process for two years
and set up a series of hurdles the Pentagon must clear before
2005. If it stumbles over any of them, the process stops.

The bill requires the Pentagon to prepare and send to Congress
two extensive analyses of the military forces it could need in the
future and how many of each specific type of base will be
necessary to support that force.

Each service also must certify that base closing is necessary,
detailing what kinds of facilities are excess and what are the
alternatives. And the military must certify that closing more
bases will result in net savings -- for each service, not just the
Defense Department in general -- within five years.

If any of those required studies are not submitted on time, the
base closure process is dead.

And if the Pentagon overcomes all those barriers, the legislation
requires the base-closure commission to consider only relative
military value in deciding whether to close a base, not whether
closing it will save money. It also requires seven of the nine
commissioners to vote to consider closing any base not on the
Pentagon's list. Past commissions could add bases on a majority
vote.

Beeks said the last provision should not be a problem. Although
previous commissions have looked at scores of bases not on the
Pentagon's lists, they closed very few of those and vetoed more
of the military's choices than they added, he said.

Beeks also said the required studies of needed bases will allow
the Pentagon to come up with a good list of candidates for
closure and enable the commission to make better comparisons
of similar facilities in all four services.

The bill also allows the military to reduce a base to "caretaker"
status to keep it available for possible future reactivation.

Reps. Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, and Randy "Duke"
Cunningham, R-Escondido, who opposed more base closing,
endorsed the restrictions the House imposed.

"A lot of us are concerned that there has not been a coherent
analysis by the administration about what we'll need" in case of a
future major conflict, said Hunter, a senior member of the House
Armed Services Committee.

Cunningham, a member of the House Defense Appropriations
Subcommittee, said that analysis and the requirement to rank
installations by military value "will be helpful in preserving vital
military operations in San Diego."

Like Cunningham and Hunter, most California lawmakers
opposed another closure round because the state lost 29 major
bases and a number of smaller facilities in previous rounds. State
officials estimated those closures cost California nearly 100,000
jobs and $9.6 billion in total revenues, although many former
bases have become home to prosperous civilian enterprises.

Despite the past closures, California still has dozens of military
installations that are considered prime candidates for closure.
Those include multiple Navy and Air Force research,
development and test facilities, some only short distances apart.

The military has significant excess in those types of bases and
industrial support facilities, such as aviation and ground
equipment maintenance depots and shipyards, Beeks said.