Springfield State Journal Register

December 23, 2003

Pentagon tells how it will decide


WASHINGTON - The proposed criteria for deciding what military bases to close include familiar factors of military capabilities, cost of relocation and environmental cleanup and the economic impact on the communities losing bases.

The draft criteria, published Monday in the Federal Register, put added emphasis on some factors, such as "encroachment" from urban growth and environmental restrictions on an installation and the ability of the remaining bases to support a possible future active force buildup or mobilization of National Guard and Reserve units.

But the proposed guidelines for the planned 2005 base-closure round are generally the same as those used in the last process in 1995.

Several analysts who have studied past rounds of base closings expressed surprise that the proposed criteria do not put more emphasis on multiservice, or joint, use of facilities, which defense officials have indicated would be a priority.

"Everything we heard led us to believe that jointness would be a major factor," said Chris Hellman of the Arms Control and Non-proliferation Center. Combining several services' activities at one installation would be an easy way to close bases, he said.

Analysts for Business Executives for National Security, or BENS, said that as in previous closure rounds, military value is still the primary factor, although it might be determined a little differently.

And from their discussions with Pentagon officials, they expect the next round to "be the most through-going joint review," said Ken Beeks of BENS.

The consideration of joint use is in the first of the proposed eight criteria, which calls for evaluation of: "The current and future mission capabilities and the impact on operational readiness of the Defense Department's total force, including the impact on joint warfighting, training and readiness."

"Total force" refers to the combined active duty and reserve units.

The second proposed factor addresses the military's growing concern that encroachment from housing development around bases and restrictions from environmental protection and endangered-species laws have handicapped use of training facilities. It requires consideration of the "availability and conditions" of land and airspace, "including training areas suitable for maneuver by ground, naval or air forces."

The proposed third factor is the ability of a base "to accommodate contingency, mobilization and future total force requirements" for operations and training.

The commission that will decide what bases to close also must consider how long it would take before the savings from a closed base exceed the cost to close it and move its forces elsewhere. It does not set a limit for that payoff.

The proposed criteria include consideration of the impact on the local economy if a base is closed, which has been a factor in previous rounds.

Publishing the draft criteria started a 30-day public comment period.

The Pentagon must send the final guidelines to Congress by Feb. 16 in one of the first formal steps toward decisions to be made in 2005.