Defense weighs strategy for releasing base closure list

Pentagon officials will provide Congress with list of closures and realignments only an hour before announcement.

The Defense Department may not give Congress much advance notice about what military bases it wants to realign and close.

According to a Defense official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, lawmakers likely will receive base realignment and closure recommendations about an hour before Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld holds a press conference to announce them in early May. Those recommendations are expected to be hand-delivered to congressional offices, the official said.

The recommendations will be published on the Defense Department's Web site immediately following Rumsfeld's remarks. A separate Web site will be created to provide personnel information for federal employees whose bases are closing or whose jobs are being relocated.

Commanders of military installations could be given as much as 12 hours advance notice if their base is on the list.

Military communities across the nation are eagerly awaiting the announcement to find out if their bases will be closed or realigned. The Pentagon initially suggested that about a quarter of space on all military bases was unneeded, but Rumsfeld recently downplayed those comments, saying some of the space would be needed to accommodate troops relocating back to the United States from Europe.

Once the Pentagon recommendations are released, the independent Base Realignment and Closure commission, chaired by former Veteran Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi, will review them at public hearings, conduct its own analysis and make final recommendations to the president by Sept 8. If the president backs those recommendations, then Congress has 45 legislative days to reject or approve them in their entirety.

The Pentagon has formed a communications task force, headed by Dick McGraw, special assistant to the secretary of Defense, that is addressing concerns about the date on which the report will be released, who will be notified in advance, and how the actual list will be announced to military communities around the country. The Pentagon even hired a consulting firm, BearingPoint Inc., to assist in crafting its BRAC communications plan.

Federal law requires that the Defense Department publish a list of which bases it wants closed in the Federal Register no later than Monday, May 16, but that date will likely move up amid concerns that the information would leak out over the weekend before being published.

The Pentagon could release the list on the preceding Friday, but officials worry about headlines that might be created by releasing it on Friday the 13th. Options are being weighed to make the announcement as early as Tuesday, May 10, according to Defense officials and BRAC lobbyists.

Meanwhile, the independent Overseas Basing Commission will announce on May 10 its recommendations for how U.S. forces should be based overseas. The commission was appointed by Congress to assess whether overseas bases should be closed, realigned or established in new areas.

Al Corenella, a South Dakota businessman who heads the commission and served as a BRAC commission member in 1995, says the report originally was expected in August, but the release date was moved up so that it could be considered in domestic base closure deliberations. Unlike the BRAC commissions, the overseas panel's recommendations are advisory only.

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