Springfield State Journal-Register

March 16, 2005

Bush names base closing members

BY Dori Meinert and Otto Kreisher
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON--President Bush nominated former Transportation Secretary Samuel Skinner, a native of Illinois, to serve on a commission that will play a key role in deciding which military bases in Illinois and around the country soon might be closed.

Altogether, Bush nominated nine members of the Pentagon's Base Realignment and Closure Commission, including four retired senior military officers, two former members of Congress, two former cabinet secretaries and a former weapons research and testing official.

The Senate must approve the nominations. Illinois officials hope that the inclusion of Skinner, an Illinois native, will help the state's chances. Skinner was one of two people recommended by House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Plano.

Skinner served as chief of staff to former President George H. W. Bush, the current president's father. He also spent three years as secretary of transportation. He currently is a lawyer with Greenberg Traurig LLP in Chicago.

"All the states and regions have been trying to at least get one person on the commission so that is a step ahead for Illinois to have at least one person there who knows the state and presumably knows the facilities," said Peter M. Murphy, a partner with the Washington-based Holland & Knight LLP. "But I don't think it follows that individuals being nominated are going to necessarily follow a regional vote."

While the base closing process was designed to take the political influence out of decisions, Peoria and Springfield city officials have hired Holland & Knight to help them defend the Air National Guard bases in their communities. Those bases are the 182nd Airlift Wing at the Greater Peoria Regional Airport and the 183rd Fighter Winger at the Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport. The state of Illinois has hired PMA Group, a firm hired by the state to represent all state military bases including the Rock Island Arsenal and Scott Air Force Base.

However, the commission members are required to vote on specific criteria spelled out by law.

If nothing else, there's a psychological impact of not having a home-state member on the commission.

"The states that aren't represented by a BRAC member start feeling they're not understood, or their mission or facility isn't going to get a fair look during the process, which I don't think is necessarily true, but in the past it's happened often enough that there is some basis for concern," Murphy said.

Peoria and Springfield bases have a leg up on other communities because they've been working on the issue for months already, he said.

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the mayors of Peoria and Springfield met with Pentagon officials in December. Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin and Barack Obama last month wrote to those who were recommended for the commission by House and Senate leaders, seeking a meeting on the Illinois military facilities.

Rep. Lane Evans, D-Rock Island, on Tuesday reiterated his support for the Rock Island Arsenal.

"As its work on armored doors for troops in Iraq demonstrates, the Rock Island Arsenal is an essential part of our national defense," said Evans, pledging to continue to make the case for its survival.

Other nominees are:

- Former Veterans Affairs secretary Anthony J. Principi, whom Bush nominated to serve as chairman;

- Former Rep. James H. Bilbray, D-Nevada, who served on the House Armed Services and Intelligence Committees and in the Army Reserve.

- Philip Coyle of Los Angeles, the former director of Operational Test and Evaluation in the Defense Department and now a senior advisor to the Center for Defense Information.

- Retired Adm. Harold W. Gehman, Jr., of Virginia, who last duty was as NATO's Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic and as the commander of the U.S. Joint Forces Command.

- Former Rep. James V. Hansen, R-Utah, who had served on the Armed Services Committee and in the Navy.

- Retired Army Gen. James T. Hill of Florida, whose last duty was as commander of the U.S. Southern Command.

- Retired Army Lt. General Claude M. Kicklighter, of Georgia, who was an assistant secretary at VA after leaving the Army.

- Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Sue Ellen Turner of Texas, whose last post was as director of nursing services for the Air Force. She currently is a member of the Battle Monuments Commission.

Six of the commissioners were selected by the congressional leaders, with four chosen by the Republicans and two by the Democrats. Bush selected the other three. None is expected to have any trouble winning Senate confirmation. The next key step in the BRAC process will be Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's release of the recommended closures and adjustments, which must come by May 16.