Retired military officers tapped to serve on base-closing commission

Bush administration, Senate minority leader picks pending.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., chose two retired senior military officers to serve on the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

Frist announced Tuesday that he was recommending retired Army Gen. John Coburn, former head of Army Materiel Command, and retired Navy Adm. Harold Gehman, former head of Joint Forces Command and supreme allied commander of the Atlantic Fleet, for the commission.

"The BRAC Commission is vital to the health of the United States military and our national security. By assessing existing infrastructure and reconfiguring necessary resources, the commission will help to maximize our defense capability and streamline efficiency," Frist said in a press release.

By March 15, President Bush must submit nominees to Congress for the nine-member nonpartisan panel that will decide which bases to close or realign this year. Federal law requires the president to pick three nominees. The Senate majority leader and speaker of the House each get two picks apiece, while the House and Senate minority leaders each get one choice.

Both Coburn and Gehman are likely to create little controversy because of their strong military resumes. In past BRAC rounds, some commissioners have been criticized as largely political picks selected by lawmakers with hopes of protecting bases in their states and districts.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., is backing former Rep. James Hansen, R-Utah, who served on the House Armed Services Committee and was a leading defender of military depots, and former Transportation Secretary Samuel Skinner, an Illinois native who was also chief of staff for President George H.W. Bush, for the commission.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who has only one pick, sent two nominees to the White House--former Rep. Vic Fazio, D-Calif., and Wade Sanders, a San Diego lawyer who served as a deputy assistant secretary of Defense during the Clinton administration.

The remaining recommendations have yet to be announced by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., or the White House.

In mid-May, the Defense Department will make its recommendations for closures and realignments, which the BRAC commission will then review before making formal recommendations to the president by Sept. 8. The president must accept or reject the list within 15 days; if it meets his approval, Congress has 45 legislative days to reject it before it becomes law.

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