Base closing recommendations expected Friday

Communities around 425 military installations await news of their fate.

Military communities will hear by the end of this week whether their their bases are slated to be closed or realigned, according to sources familiar with the process.

The Defense Department is set to announce on Friday how many of the nation's 425 military installations it wants to close or realign. An independent, nine-member Base Realignment and Closure Commission will then begin reviewing those recommendations next week and give its final recommendations to the president by no later than Sept. 8. The president and Congress then must accept or reject the list in its entirety.

The commission will hear testimony from Defense officials involved with the BRAC process next week, including: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers on Monday; top uniformed and civilian leaders from the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps on Tuesday; top uniformed and civilian leaders from the Army on Wednesday; and senior defense officials on Wednesday and Thursday.

Senior Defense officials briefed reporters this week on details of the BRAC process, but declined to say when the final list would be announced or offer any indications of how many or what kinds of bases would be on it.

The Pentagon is required to publish its recommendations in the Federal Register no later than Monday, May 16, but the announcement is expected sooner to avoid leaks. Congressional sources and BRAC lobbyists say lawmakers have been told to expect base closing announcements Friday morning.

Philip Grone, deputy undersecretary for installations and environment, said at the briefing that the closings will further several Defense goals including accelerating military transformation, maximizing joint utilization of military bases and eliminating unneeded bases so more money can go toward warfighting. The Pentagon says it has saved billions from four previous rounds of base closings in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995 that closed 97 major installations and realigned 55 other major bases.

Grone dismissed earlier reports suggesting that one in four military bases could be closed or realigned. He says studies show that Defense has 24 percent extra space on bases, but that some of that will remain in case it's needed for wartime "surge" operations.

Michael Wynne, undersecretary of Defense for installations and environment, said that in past rounds, the BRAC commission backed about 85 percent of the Pentagon's recommendations. He says the Defense Department expects that even fewer will be overturned in this round.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said she would file a federal lawsuit on behalf of Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich if any of the state's National Guard bases are included in the closure list.

Illinois has Air National Guard bases in Springfield and Peoria. Madigan and other BRAC opponents contend that the federal law prevents closure of National Guard bases in a state without the consent of its governor.

That reading of the law is disputed by BRAC supporters who contend the commission has the authority to close bases.

-- CongressDaily contributed to this report.