Provision delaying base closure process removed from defense bill

By Otto Kreisher
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE

October 9, 2004

WASHINGTON – An effort to delay the military base closure process scheduled for next year was rejected yesterday as congressional negotiators completed work on the long-overdue defense authorization bill.

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A provision approved by the House to delay the base realignment and closure round until 2007 was removed from the compromise version of the fiscal 2005 defense bill that was approved by House-Senate conferees.

The conference also removed the House's attempt to restrict sales of defense and aerospace products to foreign governments that require offsets – which means the U.S. firm must provide a set amount of work in the buying nation. That provision, which was championed by House Armed Services Committee chairman Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, was opposed by the aerospace industry, the Pentagon, the White House and the Senate.

The $420.6 billion defense measure includes authority for an average 3.5 percent pay raise for uniformed personnel and civilian defense employees, directs the Army and the Marine Corps to add 20,000 soldiers and 3,000 Marines next year and permits them to add even more personnel in the future if necessary. The language on additional soldiers and Marines is a compromise between the House demand for the larger growth and the Senate's more limited version.

The two-year delay in BRAC had been drafted by the members of the House Armed Services Committee, many of whom represent bases that could be targets for closure or reduction. A similar effort to block the next BRAC was rejected narrowly in the Senate.

But the House provision was opposed by the Senate leadership and by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who threatened a presidential veto if the delay remained in the final bill.

The Pentagon wants the BRAC round to get rid of an estimated 24 percent excess capacity in its total base infrastructure nationwide. Pentagon officials have said the military could save up to $6 billion a year in reduced operating costs once those unneeded facilities are eliminated.

BRAC opponents, however, argued that it was unreasonable to consider closing military installations in the middle of a war, particularly when the Pentagon also is planning a dramatic change in the basing of U.S. forces around the world, bringing thousands of troops and their dependents back to the United States. But Rumsfeld said the realignment of bases overseas and at home had to be done at the same time.

Most of the California delegation in both houses opposes another BRAC because the state has been hit harder than any other state in the four previous rounds and still has many military installations that could be vulnerable to closure or reduction.

The only hope now for BRAC opponents may be the promise by Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, to delay the closure round until his defense secretary could complete a report on how many troops the military will need and where to base them. President Bush supports the closure process, which is slated to start in May.

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