Lawmakers seize on fine print to fend off base closing

Illinois lawmakers hang their hopes on statute that mandates approval by governor before closing National Guard facilities.

Lawmakers and some state governors looking to shield their military installations from the 2005 base closure round have seized on an obscure statute they say could prevent the Pentagon from shuttering National Guard facilities.

The Illinois congressional delegation, led by House Speaker Dennis Hastert, wrote Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld last month highlighting the Guard law in a bid to save installations in their state, including the 183rd Fighter Wing at Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport in Springfield and the 182nd Airlift Wing in Peoria.

Hastert, along with Democratic Sen. Richard Durbin and GOP Rep. Ray LaHood, pointed out that Title 10 of U.S. code states that Army or Air National Guard units may not be "relocated or withdrawn under this chapter without the consent of the governor of the state."

Congressional sources familiar with the law say the words "under this chapter" give the statute no influence over the BRAC law, which is contained in a separate chapter under Title 10. The letter from the Illinois lawmakers noted the law states, "(N)othing in the BRAC provisions neither amends nor calls for the amending of the above ... provision, which is part of the general and permanent law applicable to the National Guard."

The congressional sources agreed that the BRAC law and the law prohibiting the closing of National Guard facilities without a governor's consent are unrelated, leaving all National Guard bases subject to the forthcoming base-closing round.

The Illinois delegation called on Rumsfeld to immediately stop any actions that might violate this law, and other states, including Oklahoma and California, might invoke the law to prevent closures of Guard facilities. But experts say historically Guard bases have been mostly spared from the BRAC ax. In previous rounds, only four Guard bases have been affected, including three that were relocated and one that was closed.

Observers note that the upcoming base closure round poses a stronger likelihood of targeting Guard facilities because of the Pentagon's emphasis this year on the need for military installations that can support joint military operations.

The Defense Department has until May 16 to submit a list of potential closings to the newly appointed BRAC commission, which will have until Sept. 8 to review and potentially challenge the Pentagon's list before forwarding it to the White House.

The president can accept the list and forward it to Congress, where lawmakers will have 45 legislative days to approve or reject the list in its entirety. The Pentagon asserts that four previous BRAC rounds have yielded a net savings of $16.7 billion, and an annual savings since 2001 of nearly $7 billion.