New base-closing legislation would exempt some installations

Congress is weighing a new proposal for closing military bases that could exempt many Defense installations from having their doors shut. Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Ark., a member of the House Armed Services Committee, recently introduced legislation, H.R. 1820, that seeks additional base closures in 2003. But unlike past base realignments and closures, the new proposal calls for the Defense Department to designate a list of "core" military installations as essential to national security. "A military installation included on the list…may not be included on the closure and realignment list," states the legislation, known as the Military Infrastructure Transformation Act. The list would be limited to half of all military bases. The proposal is a marked change from previous rounds of military base closures. In the past, Defense was required to consider all bases for possible closure and make recommendations to an independent Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) commission that would then add or delete bases before making a final recommendation to Congress and the President. The latest proposal keeps the BRAC commission in place, but gives the Defense Department greater clout in deciding what bases are kept open before outsiders review them. As in past rounds, the President and lawmakers would be required to reject or accept the commission's recommendations without making any changes. The Pentagon has made it clear that it wants additional rounds of base closures to free up billions of dollars for weapons modernization. The outline for the proposed fiscal 2002 Defense budget says that Defense has 23 percent excess infrastructure. However, it remains unclear if lawmakers are willing to take the political risk of closing more bases. Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Carl Levin, D-Mich., have introduced a proposal in the Senate seeking another round of base closings that does not allow for any bases to be exempted from consideration. Paul Taibl, a policy analyst with Business Executives for National Security in Washington, applauded the call for more base closures, but said it would be "terribly difficult" to ensure fairness if Defense were able to exempt bases. Local communities would be forced to convince not only the commission but also the Pentagon that their bases are needed, he added.
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