Bush chooses former VA chief for BRAC commission

Defense Department will make its recommendations for closures and realignments in mid-May.

Former Veteran Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi will be nominated by President Bush to lead the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission, the White House has announced.

Principi, 60, stepped down as VA chief in December and now is a vice president for pharmaceutical manufacturer Pfizer Corp. Previously, the decorated Vietnam veteran served as general counsel for the Senate Armed Services and Senate Veterans Affairs committees. He also held an executive post with defense giant Lockheed Martin Corp.

If approved by the Senate, Principi would head a nine-member panel charged with evaluating the Pentagon's plans for closing and realigning domestic military bases. By March 15, the President and congressional leaders must submit nominees to the Senate for the BRAC panel.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., has already nominated retired Army Gen. John Coburn and retired Adm. Harold Gehman; while House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., has picked former Transportation Secretary Samuel Skinner and former Rep. James Hansen, R-Utah.

On the Democratic side, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has recommended former Rep. James Bilbray, D-Nev. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has only one choice, but has forwarded two names, Wade Sanders, a San Diego lawyer and former Clinton administration assistant secretary of Defense, and Philip Coyle, the Pentagon's former top weapons tester.

President Bush still has two additional picks for the BRAC commission.

In mid-May, the Defense Department will make its recommendations for closures and realignments. The commission will then hold public hearings on the list and issue its final recommendations to the president by Sept. 8. The president must accept or reject the list in its entirety within 15 days; if it meets his approval, Congress has 45 days to reject it before it becomes law.