Rumsfeld warns Congress against modernizing bases that will be closed

In an appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld complained about Congress' two-year delay of another base closure round and warned the lawmakers against trying to protect bases by adding improvement funds.

The delay in establishing another base realignment and closure commission, from this year--as the administration requested--to 2005, "means that the department will have to continue supporting between 20-25 percent more infrastructure than is needed to support the force," Rumsfeld said.

The secretary noted that the department had to put off investments in base infrastructure, because "it would have been a waste of the taxpayers' money to invest significant funds in modernizing bases that could eventually be closed." The proposed budget cuts military construction funding from $6.6 billion in the current year to $4.8 billion.

Committee members were mostly supportive of Bush's defense budget, with the main complaint that it did not provide enough shipbuilding funds.

Sens. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and John Warner, R-Va., among others, expressed concern that the five new ships funded in the fiscal 2003 budget were only half the number the Navy needed to keep the fleet above the 300 ship level considered necessary to meet needs.

Rumsfeld told the senators he shared their concerns, but said the Navy made the decision to put more money into other accounts, particularly operations and maintenance, because the average age of the fleet still is relatively young.

Perhaps the strongest objection to the size of the $396 billion budget came from Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, whose prepared remarks said the services needed $100 billion to $110 billion a year for weapons procurement, compared to the $69 billion in the budget.

Little concern was voiced over Rumsfeld's request for a $10 billion "contingency fund" to cover likely expenses in the war against terrorism. Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., asked if the money could be used to start offensive actions against the three nations President Bush had cited as the "axis of evil"--Iran, Iraq and North Korea.

Rumsfeld said the money would not be spent if U.S. forces were not engaged in conflict and added, "I don't think there is anything in the budget that contemplates anything of the size you suggest."

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