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California may fare better in 2005 base closings, report says

Research group advises Golden State officials how to defend against BRAC threats.

With more military bases and personnel than any other state, California has much to lose during the upcoming round of base closings, but the state is better positioned than it was in the 1980 and 1990s when it bore the brunt of military downsizing, a new independent report concludes.

"Four BRAC rounds battered California, and their effects are still being felt throughout the state," says the nonpartisan California Institute for Federal Policy Research in its report. "Looking forward, the lessons of California's past base closures can inform the state's future course. A united front and strategic outlook can help the state's defense-oriented communities survive, and thrive, regardless of what the 2005 BRAC round may yield."

The Pentagon will release on May 16 a list of military bases that it wants to close or realign. Once the list is published, a nonpartisan BRAC commission will review it, hold public hearings and visit bases before making final recommendations to the president and Congress in September for their final approval.

California lost 93,546 military and civilian jobs when 24 bases were closed in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995. Today, the Golden State still has 93 military bases and about 130,000 military and 57,000 civilian personnel, which generate more than $100 billion for the state's economy.

The report says there are three ways to "affect" the final BRAC list: using "connections" at DoD or within the executive branch to stay off the Pentagon's list; influencing the makeup of the BRAC commission to ensure that state and community interests are represented; and finally, arguing for the removal of bases from lists at BRAC hearings.

The report found that California has been "active" in attempting to keep its bases off the Pentagon list, noting that statewide and local retention efforts are far better than in past years. But, the report cautions, the "private nature" of BRAC deliberations makes it impossible to know whether they are working.

The commission makeup appears "favorable," the report found. Researchers noted it will be chaired by San Diego resident Anthony Principi, a former Veteran Affairs Secretary. Another commissioner, Philip Coyle, also lives in southern California, and four of the nine commissioners come from Western states. "West Coast concerns are unlikely to be ignored."

Finally, the report says, making the Pentagon list is often a "death sentence"-since the majority are approved by the commission-but that should not prevent communities from making a case to the BRAC panel based on military value. "Complaining about past inequities would be likely far less effective," the report recommends, "than explaining the detrimental implications for national security of an inadequate Pacific Coast defense infrastructure."