Peoria Journal Star

September 12, 2005

BRAC sends its proposals to president

By Otto Kreisher
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Despite continuing legal attempts by several states to stop it, 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 had wanted.

The nine-member Base Closure and Realignment panel approved about 86 percent of the 837 large and small 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 Kittering, 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 isolated base.

Two experienced observers of the base closure, or BRAC, 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 panel estimated the changes would result in a net savings of only $19 billion over 20 years, instead of the $49 billion Rumsfeld had claimed. Much of that difference was because of the commission's rejection of the Pentagon's calculation of savings from personnel moves from outdated jobs to future missions.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 total work force.

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

But the panel recommended that the Pentagon plan for additional closure rounds and suggested 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 any time soon.

The commissioners also responded to the protests from many governors and state National Guard leaders by making significant changes to the proposed sweeping cutbacks in Air National Guard flying units.

And because of lawsuits filed by half a dozen governors - including Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich - who claimed the Pentagon could not move or change Guard units without their permission, the commission deleted reference to one of the Air Guard actions and blurred the results of others in its final report.

Although federal judges rejected five of the six attempts to block the report, including the Illinois suit, the remaining legal action by Connecticut forced the commission to delay sending its report to the White House until late Thursday, which was its legal deadline for completing its work.

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

Although the commission rejected a number of the 29 proposals to eliminate the flying units from Air Guard installations across the nation, it approved moving the 15 F-16s of the Illinois Guard's 183rd Fighter Wing from the Abraham Lincoln Capitol Airport in Springfield to Fort Wayne, Ind. The Illinois Air Guard headquarters and the 217th Engineer Installation Squadron would remain at the airport and a jet engine repair activity would be moved in, resulting in the net loss of 163 personnel, mostly civilian defense employees.

The panel also approved the movement of four C-130 transports and 35 military and civilian jobs to the 182nd Airlift Wing at the Greater Peoria Regional Airport, from an Air Guard unit in Nashville, Tenn.

Overall, Illinois would see a net loss of about 2,600 military and civilian personnel under the commission's proposed actions.

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said he hoped Bush would reject the BRAC report as "a short-sighted and error-ridden set of recommendations that will cut jobs in communities like Springfield and Rock Island and fail to comply with the criteria established for this BRAC process under law."