Bush does end run around Congress, installs base closure panel

Bush recess appointment puts panel’s head, eight nominees into place after senator blocks vote.

The White House has installed the Base Realignment and Closure Commission by recess appointment after Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., blocked their nominations from being voted on by the Senate.

On Friday, President Bush announced that former Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi had been appointed to head BRAC, and that the panel's eight other nominees had been put in place as well.

Presidents can make recess appointments for jobs that normally require Senate confirmation when lawmakers are not in session. The appointments have been used in recent years to avoid contentious nomination battles.

Lott had placed a "hold"-a Senate procedure that allows any member to block a vote on a nomination-on Principi and threatened to do the same for the other nominees. Lott long has opposed more rounds of military base closings, fearing that installations in his home state of Mississippi could be targeted, among them Columbus Air Force Base, Naval Station Pascagoula, and the Naval Air Station in Meridian.

The BRAC Commission plays a crucial role in deciding what bases are closed. Once the Pentagon announces on May 16 which bases it wants to close or realign, the commission will hold public hearings throughout the summer and make final recommendations for congressional and presidential approval in the fall.

Establishing the commission well before the list of closings is published is crucial to its effectiveness. Former BRAC staffers say the panel already is getting a later start than previous ones. If the commission is further delayed, it would not have time to collect data and do thee analyses required to change Pentagon recommendations and, in effect, would become a rubber stamp for the proposed list, they say.

The Pentagon has said that this round of base closings could be far bigger than the previous four held in the late 1980s and 1990s as the military downsized following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Ninety-seven out of nearly 500 military bases were closed in those rounds.

Last month, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld played down earlier estimates that more than 20 percent of domestic installations would close. Still, local military communities have waged extensive campaigns and spent millions of dollars on lobbyists to try to stay off the list.

In addition to Principi, others named to the commission are: former Rep. James H. Bilbray, D- Nev.; Philip Coyle, an assistant Defense secretary under President Bill Clinton; retired Navy Adm. Harold Gehman Jr.; former Rep. James Hansen, R-Utah; retired Army Gen. James Hill; retired Air Force Gen. Lloyd Warren Newton; Samuel K. Skinner, who was White House chief of staff and Transportation secretary under President George H.W. Bush; and retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Sue Ellen Turner.