Several names floated for base closing commission

Panel will decide which bases should be shuttered or realigned in 2005.

Key lawmakers are finalizing recommendations to the White House for the names of members to serve on the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

By March 15, President Bush must submit nominees to Congress for the nine-member, nonpartisan commission that will decide which domestic military bases should be closed or realigned this year. Federal law requires the president to pick three nominees. The House Speaker and Senate Majority Leader get two choices apiece, and the House and Senate minority leaders each pick one nominee.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., this week announced his recommendations would be former Rep. James Hansen, R-Utah, who served on the House Armed Services Committee and was a leading defender of military depots, and former Transportation Secretary Samuel Skinner, an Illinois native who was also chief of staff for President George H.W. Bush.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, has suggested former Rep. Vic Fazio, D-Calif., who spent 20 years representing the Sacramento Valley in Congress and was a key player on the military construction appropriations subcommittee. Pelosi also recommended Wade Sanders, a San Diego lawyer who served as a deputy assistant Navy secretary during the Clinton administration.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., backed those candidates, noting in a prepared statement, "Ensuring Californian representation on this commission is critical. California was hit hard in the past four BRAC rounds. Since 1988, California has lost 29 bases and an estimated 93,000 jobs. We shouldered 60 percent of the net personnel cuts and lost more jobs than all other states combined."

Other recommended commission members have yet to be announced.

Meanwhile, the Government Accountability Office stated in a report (GAO-05-138) issued Friday that the Defense Department had saved $28.9 billion by the end of fiscal 2003 from four past rounds of base closures--and that the closures would continue to generate $7 billion in savings annually. The report also noted that Defense spent $8.3 billion on BRAC environmental cleanup work as of the end of fiscal 2003 and projected that another $3.6 billion would be spent.

The Pentagon estimates that it will save billions of dollars more by closing bases this year and has suggested that more than 20 percent of the space at military bases is unnecessary.

In mid-May, the Defense Department will make its recommendations for closures and realignments, which the BRAC commission will then review before making formal recommendations to the president by Sept. 8. By Sept. 23, the president must accept or reject the list; if it meets his approval, then Congress has 45 legislative days to reject it before it becomes law.