'Losers' in 2004 base funding could be vulnerable to closure

The Washington, D.C., area has its share of excess military infrastructure, some of which could prove ripe for trimming during the Defense Department's upcoming round of base closures. One vulnerable facility is Bolling Air Force Base, an analysis of the final fiscal 2004 military construction appropriations bill shows.

So far, the Pentagon is not saying which facilities are most likely to get the ax -- although Raymond DuBois, deputy undersecretary of Defense for installations and environment, has lamented the Washington area's excess capacity in the past and suggested how it might be put to better use in the future.

"We have now -- very large military installations here in the Washington area. We also have an enormous amount of leased space in the Washington metropolitan area," DuBois said at a news briefing late last year. "Can we better utilize the military installations, the military real property assets owned by the services, and reduce the expense of leased space?"

Bolling was one of many casualties of the fiscal 2004 appropriations process, failing to garner any new construction funds that might deflect scrutiny next fiscal year, when the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission decides which facilities to shut down. President Bush sought $9.3 million this year for an adjudication facility at Bolling in his budget request, but the House nixed the funds in the conference for the military construction spending bill, which now awaits his signature.

Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and several Army National Guard centers -- three alone in Alabama -- also failed to get funding from conferees, despite presidential requests for multimillion-dollar upgrades. (For a complete database ranking allocations of fiscal 2004 construction funds by facility, click here.) As for Bolling -- a relatively small Air Force installation situated in a densely populated urban area -- several analysts see it as an obvious choice for closure. While it houses the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Air Force headquarters building, a ceremonial air wing, band and honor guard, these analysts say other area facilities, such as the Washington Navy Yard or Maryland's much larger Andrews Air Force Base, could take on these missions in a realignment.

The 2004 spending bill also left Moody Air Force Base in Georgia vulnerable to a closure decision. In 2001, Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., added $6.9 million to the House version of the military construction bill to build a C-130 maintenance hangar there. The effort failed in conference with the Senate but has been revised since then. Two attempts were made this year in the Senate to add $7.6 million for the base to the 2004 Defense appropriations bill and the military construction bill.

Both add-ons failed in conference, leaving Moody without any construction funds -- not even family housing money. But community groups remain hopeful, saying the base, home to the 347th Rescue Wing -- the only such wing in the Air Force -- is well-positioned to avoid closure. This is partly because the Air Force Special Operations Command, whose vice commander is a former member of that unit, controls it.

Another facility absent from the 2004 spending bill was Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts. It has survived earlier closure rounds but was omitted from the president's budget and both House and Senate versions of the spending measure. That may have helped spur state officials to launch a campaign last month to save the base and hire a retired Air Force general as a consultant.

A state development agency called MassDevelopment is lobbying to acquire adjacent land in hopes of attracting a high-tech tenant that might make the base too valuable to close. The agency also hopes to influence the Pentagon as it develops criteria, due at the end of this month, for BRAC decision making. Its aim is to give science and technology facilities like Hanscom a higher profile in the Pentagon's evolving BRAC process.

Vandenberg Air Force Base in southern California also was denied 2004 military construction funds. President Bush sought $16.5 million to build a consolidated fitness center there, but the Senate eliminated the requested funds in conference.

The base houses the Air Force Space Command and the 30th Space Wing. It could take on the service's Space and Missile Systems Center now at Los Angeles Air Force Base if that base were to close. The Los Angeles base is located in an expensive section of Los Angeles County, and analysts consider it an obvious choice for closure, since it boasts no actual space or missile facilities.

But a Senate add-on, giving the Los Angeles base $5 million for a "main gate complex," survived the conference, possibly helping safeguard the installation from the BRAC process.

Another major southern California facility -- Edwards Air Force Base, known for its test pilot school -- won an infusion of nearly $26.4 million for new construction in the final spending bill.

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