State Journal Register
Pentagon: No veto on Guard bases
Illinois officials insist governor can keep 183rd in Springfield
By OTTO KREISHER
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON - The Pentagon has told the nation's governors that, contrary to the views of Illinois' chief executive, they do not have a veto over what the Base Realignment and Closure process does with National Guard units in their states.
But Illinois officials insisted Friday that the law is on their side.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich and members of the state's congressional delegation - including House Speaker Dennis Hastert, a Republican - sent a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in March arguing that federal law prohibits the military from closing or moving a Guard unit without the governor's permission.
In a tactfully worded response and in a spokesman's statements, the Pentagon said they are wrong.
The resolution of the legal dispute, which could move into the federal courts as the base closure process proceeds, could have significant impact this year because of heavy use of the Guard and reserves in the war on terrorism.
Because of their need to use the part-time warriors in Afghanistan and Iraq, the services are looking at more closely aligning the reserve and active forces, which could mean housing the units closer together.
That is particularly true for the Air Force, which is planning to make significant cuts in its force, particularly its F-16 fighters and C-130 transports, and wants to merge more of its active and reserve units. Many of those airplanes are in the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve.
Those signals in advance of the upcoming base closure round have made Illinois officials anxious about the fate of the 183rd Fighter Wing at Springfield’s Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport and the 182nd Airlift Wing at the Greater Peoria Regional Airport. The 183rd flies F-16s and the 182nd flies C-130s.
In an attempt to shield those units, Illinois officials cited a section of federal law that says Guard units may not be “relocated or withdrawn under this chapter without the consent of the governor of the state.”
But a letter that a Pentagon spokesman said had been sent to Blagojevich and members of Congress said that for BRAC to “achieve our objectives” the process “must involve all of our installations, including those used by the reserve component. Please be assured that the Department’s BRAC recommendations will comply with all applicable legal requirements.”
A Pentagon spokesman and a BRAC expert for the Congressional Research Service both said Friday that the law cited by Illinois officials does not apply to BRAC and does not prohibit the Pentagon from relocating National Guard units.
Although the letter, which was signed by Michael Wynne, the undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, was dated April 12, the signers of the Illinois letter said Friday they had not seen the response.
“The bottom line for me is, I have not received a letter. I don’t believe the letter was sent,” said Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria. “I sent them a letter citing a provision of the law. ... I’m expecting a response from the secretary of defense.”
Angela Benander, spokeswoman for Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said his office had not receive Wynne’s letter and stood by the delegation’s legal opinion, which she said was approved by the state attorney general.
Benander also cited several cases in previous closure rounds in which Air National Guard bases were closed, only to be restored in the subsequent BRAC, which she said was a result of the legal barrier.
But the records of the four previous BRACs shows at least five Air Guard facilities that were closed and the units moved elsewhere.
In none of the cases in which Guard closures were reversed did the commission report cite any legal restraint, and the 1993 commission specifically recommended moving reserve units onto active bases.