Union Tribune

May 17, 2003

Panel moves to cut base closures in '05


WASHINGTON Faced with the threat of a presidential veto, the House Armed Services Committee this week rejected another attempt to cancel the planned 2005 base closure round, but moved to reduce the number of closures.

The amendment to soften the impact of the Base Realignment and Closure process is likely to be challenged when the defense authorization bill goes to the House floor next week. If the amendment survives there, it would face obstacles in the Senate, whose version of the bill contains no similar measures.

The Armed Services committee approved an amendment by its chairman, Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, that would require the Pentagon to use a force structure much larger than what now exists to calculate the number of bases needed.

Under Hunter's amendment, the Pentagon would have to maintain enough bases to accommodate the number of troops, weapons and units called for in a 1990 defense analysis.

The military has been cut by more than one-third since that 1990 review, and at least 20 percent of the force is stationed or deployed overseas.

With current force levels, defense officials have estimated that up to one-fourth of the roughly 500 domestic military facilities are unnecessary.

Hunter said his amendment was intended to give the military a "surge" capability so it could increase the force if future threats required more troops. Some bases could be put into reserve or "mothball" status to make them available for such future use, he said.

"We're never going to be able to retrieve these bases if they're closed," he said.

But an authority on the base-reduction process called the committee's effort misguided and predicted it will not become law.

"If we went by that rule, we'd still have Fort Apache," said Ken Beeks, an analyst with Business Executives for National Security.

Beeks also criticized the move by many communities and a few states to hire lobbyists or consultants to save their bases.

California has distributed about $700,000 to various organizations and communities, including San Diego, to help ward off the BRAC threat.

"It's all wasted money," Beeks said. "I do not think those people can affect the process at all."