Communities ride out base closings

Most communities where military bases were closed in the 1980s and 1990s have recovered from the economic blow of losing their Defense facilities, according to the General Accounting Office.

"While some communities surrounding military bases are faring better than others, most are recovering from the initial economic impact of base closures," Barry Holman, GAO's director of defense capabilities and management, told lawmakers in recent testimony (GAO-01-1054T). According to Holman, 62 communities have borne the brunt of Pentagon decisions to close 97 major bases since 1988. Of those communities, he said, 43 (69 percent) had unemployment rates lower than the national average in 2000. Additionally, he said, slightly more than half of those communities saw per capita incomes grow at a higher rate than the national average. Holman said the base closures are "essentially complete," but that the Defense Department had turned over less than half of the more than 500,000 acres of unneeded base land to federal, state or local government agencies or other groups. Cleaning up bases continues to be "costly and challenging" and can delay property transfers, he said. So far, Defense has spent about half of an estimated $7 billion needed to clean up the bases it has closed. Congress is keenly interested in the fate of communities where bases are closed because the Pentagon is asking lawmakers to shutter more bases beginning in 2003. Base-closing opponents have long argued that military closures can devastate local economies, while supporters have claimed that many communities are better off by using the former military land to attract new businesses.

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