Pentagon's base closure plan draws ire of lawmakers

Lawmakers and Pentagon officials clashed Thursday over the need for more military base closures in 2005.

On Tuesday, the Defense Department released a report required by Congress that showed 24 percent "excess capacity" at more than 400 bases across the United States. The report officially certified the need for another round of military base realignment and closure (BRAC) in 2005.

During a hearing before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness, Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., attacked the calculations, particularly those used for determining excess capacity at research and development facilities, which have the greatest excess space, according to the Pentagon. At one point, Wilson held out a deck of cards, randomly pulled out a 7 and said that figure was just as accurate as the ones the Pentagon came up with in the report.

"This doesn't cut it," said Wilson.

Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas, who introduced legislation this week to delay BRAC until 2007, laid out several concerns about going ahead with base closures next year. He cited the unsettled national security environment, the repositioning of forces overseas and the cleanup costs associated with closing bases as reasons for delaying BRAC.

Raymond DuBois, who as deputy undersecretary of Defense for installations and environment is the Pentagon's point man on BRAC, argued for base closings, saying that the military still has an infrastructure designed for the Cold War. He stressed the billions of dollars saved in four previous BRAC rounds between 1988 and 1995 and said most communities had recovered economically after losing bases.

DuBois told lawmakers, many of whom have installations in their districts, that there's a strong likelihood that BRAC 2005 will focus more on realigning bases than shutting them down. He also stressed that the "excess capacity" numbers were one of several factors that would be considered, with a base's military value being the paramount concern.

Barry Holman, director of defense capabilities and management at the General Accounting Office, testified that the excess capacity figures provided a "rough indicator" of where the military has unneeded infrastructure. He concurred that past BRAC rounds have yielded "substantial savings," but noted that most of the 97 communities that lost bases have yet to fully recover.