Pentagon to seek single round of base closures

The Bush administration will seek a single round of military base closures in 2003 after a comprehensive review of all Defense Department installations, Pete Aldridge, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics announced Thursday. Aldridge unveiled the Defense Department's new base closing proposal, dubbed the Efficient Facilities Initiative of 2001, at a Pentagon news conference. The proposal, which modifies the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Act of 1990, will be submitted to Congress Friday. The new round of base closures is needed because the Pentagon has a 20 percent to 25 percent excess base capacity that is draining funds from modernization projects, Aldridge said. "We have got too much infrastructure," said Aldridge. "We need to go address it." The Pentagon has not decided how many bases to close and has no estimate of the number of federal jobs that could be affected, according to Aldridge. "We have not started the analysis, despite what some people believe," he said. The Pentagon proposal retains the independent Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) commission, a hallmark of previous base-closing rounds, but also expands the power of the Defense Secretary to select installations for closure. The initiative calls for the Pentagon to submit a list of proposed base closures to the independent commission by March 14, 2003. Unlike previous BRAC rounds, all decisions must be based on "military value," a criterion that includes factors such as savings gained from the elimination of facilities and the potential need for future remobilization. The commission may only take bases off this list if it finds the Defense Secretary strayed from this selection criterion, and then must provide the Secretary with an opportunity to testify about any proposed changes. The Pentagon initiative also allows the Secretary to veto any attempt by the commission to nominate additional bases for closure. Despite these restrictions, Aldridge maintained that the commission has wide power to modify the Pentagon's recommendations. "The commission can do anything it wants to," he said. "It is an independent commission." The commission must send its recommendations to President Bush by July 7, 2003. The President and Congress would then be required to reject or accept these recommendations without making any changes. In a nod to congressional lawmakers, the Pentagon proposal allows the chairmen and ranking members of the Defense committees--in addition to the top leaders of the House and Senate--to consult with the administration on the makeup of the commission. The legislation will also call for the commission to have nine members, rather than eight, to prevent tie votes. The Bush administration settled on one round of base closures to ease the strain on local communities, according to Aldridge. "We don't want to put local communities through this torture twice," said Aldridge. "It's unpleasant enough to go through this once." The administration decided against exempting certain bases from the base closure review to uphold the fairness of the process, Aldridge added. "[It] would really politicize the process, because everyone would be clamoring to get on that list," he said. Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Ark., has introduced legislation (H.R. 1820) that would fence off "core" military bases from closure for national security reasons. Aldridge acknowledged the base closure bill would face some hurdles in Congress, where lawmakers have resisted additional BRAC rounds in recent years. "It's going to be a tough sell," he said. "Some people are very much against this process, while some people are very much for the process."
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