Congress will likely approve military base closings in 2005 and, for the first time, require that some Energy Department facilities be reviewed for shuttering, according to congressional and industry sources. The House and Senate have been deadlocked in recent weeks over closing military bases. The Senate narrowly approved closing military bases in 2004 as part of its version of the 2002 Defense authorization bill, but the House rejected a similar proposal in its budget. After weeks of stalled conference negotiations, lawmakers have forged a compromise in recent days that could be approved by both legislative bodies by the end of this week. Like previous base closure rounds in 1988, 1990, 1991, 1993 and 1995, the proposal would require lawmakers to appoint a nine-member independent commission to come up with lists of bases to close that would then be either approved or rejected by the President and Congress in its entirety. More specifically, the new proposal would:
- Permit one round of base closures beginning in 2005.
- Require any Energy Department facilities that fall under the national security budget to be reviewed for closing. A base closure commission has never before reviewed Energy facilities.
- Require seven of nine commission members to support closing a base if the Secretary of Defense does not support the decision. Previously, base commissions only required a simple majority to close a base over Pentagon opposition.
"There are off ramps and protections against a runaway commission so that people will think if you have to do BRAC, this is a better process than before," said a congressional source. An industry source, who backed the Senate proposal to close bases in 2004, said the proposal was better than not having base closures at all, but added that Congress was only wasting money by delaying it for a year. The Pentagon has said closing additional bases could save as much as $3 billion annually and has urged the White House to reject any Defense budget that does not permit base closings.