Pentagon should postpone base closures, Kerry says

The Defense Department should delay closing military bases because of the increasing demands of forces around the world, according to presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.

Kerry recently told the Portsmouth Herald in New Hampshire, that the Bush administration's plan for closing bases is driven "more by ideology than careful planning." He said next year's round of base realignment and closure (BRAC) should be suspended until a long-range view of future military force structure is completed.

Kerry voted for the 2005 round of base closures in 2001. A Bush campaign spokesperson points to that vote as evidence that Kerry is "playing politics with national security issues."

Pentagon officials contend that as much as 20 percent of the military's bases are excess infrastructure and predict billions of dollars could be saved by closing or realigning installations.

Meanwhile, Congress will likely weigh delaying BRAC until 2007.

Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas, plans to introduce legislation this week, calling for a two-year delay in BRAC. "This is not the time to be shutting down bases," said Ortiz, noting the military has ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and may move troops home as it closes down bases overseas. Congress also is considering proposals to increase the size of the armed services.

Ortiz said passage will be an "uphill battle," but it stands a better chance of winning support than past attempts to scrap BRAC altogether. Last year, similar legislation was introduced as an amendment to the fiscal 2004 Defense Authorization Act, but was rejected by the House Armed Services Committee. Ortiz said he might propose the delay as an amendment to fiscal 2005 Defense authorization legislation.

New England lawmakers are pressuring the Pentagon to deliver key BRAC information to Capitol Hill. Along with the 2005 budget proposal, Pentagon officials were supposed to provide a future force structure plan, an inventory of Defense infrastructure and certification from the Defense secretary on the need for BRAC. So far, none of these documents have been sent to Congress. Without the certification, next year's round of base closings could be scrapped.

"Please provide us with your reasoning as to why the Department of Defense has not complied" with the law and advise us of your plans to do so, stated a March 11 letter to Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from 10 New England lawmakers. Among those signing the letter were Sens. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Judd Gregg, R-N.H. Kerry did not sign the letter.

Defense Department spokesman Glenn Flood said the documents should be sent out by Wednesday, just in time for Thursday's hearing on BRAC before the House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee.

The panel will hear from Raymond DuBois, deputy undersecretary of Defense for installations and environment, and Marine Corps Lt. Gen. James Cartwright, director of force structure, resources and assessment on the Pentagon's Joint Staff. They are expected to field questions from lawmakers regarding congressionally mandated documents related to BRAC, which the Pentagon has yet to deliver.

The Defense Department released the criteria for base closure and realignment last month. By May 16, 2005, the Defense secretary will publish a list of bases recommended for closure.

A bipartisan BRAC commission will review the list over a four-month period and make recommendations to the president.

Meanwhile, Defense Department officials were slated Monday to give a luncheon briefing to Senate staff members on the Army's role in the BRAC process.

Geoffery Prosch, acting assistant Defense secretary for installations and environment, and Col. Kurt Weaver, deputy director of the Total Army Basing Study, were scheduled to give staffers a "BRAC 101" overview and answer questions about the Army's BRAC plans.

CongressDaily contributed to this report.

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