San Diego Union Tribune

September 10, 2005

Base closure commission sends final recommendations to Bush

By Otto Kreisher

WASHINGTON – Despite continuing legal attempts by several states to stop the process, the independent base closure commission has given President Bush its final recommendations, which call for less-dramatic changes in military bases and units than Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wanted.

The nine-member Base Closure and Realignment panel approved nearly 90 percent of the 837 changes that Rumsfeld proposed, but rejected or modified a dozen of his most significant actions, retaining some major bases and closing or threatening others the Pentagon had wanted to retain.

The major changes by the panel made were to retain the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, at Kittery, Maine; the New London Submarine Base at Groton, Conn., and Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., which Rumsfeld wanted to close. It also refused to close Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., but agreed to remove all its aircraft and gave the Pentagon until 2009 to find another use for the base.

Two experienced observers of the base closure process said the commissioners showed more concern for the possible economic impact on local communities in their decisions to change some of Rumsfeld's proposals.

The commissioners also criticized Rumsfeld's massive proposal to reduce and reorganize the military's extensive base structure, saying it vastly overestimated the expected savings and may have reduced integration of the military instead of a coming together, which was supposed to be key purpose of this closure round.

The panel estimated that the changes would result in a net savings of only $19 billion over 20 years, instead of the $49 billion Rumsfeld claimed. Much of that difference was due to the commission's rejection of the Pentagon's calculation of savings from personnel moves from outdated jobs to future missions.

Fewer than 10,000 military and 18,000 civilian employees would be eliminated by the closures and realignments, less than 1 percent of the Pentagon's work force.

In a cover letter to Bush, chairman Anthony Principi said the commission was confident that its recommendations would "positively shape our military for decades to come."

But the panel recommended that the Pentagon plan for additional closure rounds and suggested that they be tied to the comprehensive defense review Congress requires every four years. It is considered unlikely that Congress would approve another politically painful round anytime soon.

Although Rumsfeld has grumbled about some of the commission's changes to his recommendations, Bush is expected to approve the report and send it to Congress. Congress can only block it if both chambers pass resolutions of disapproval within 45 legislative days. That is considered unlikely.

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