Base Hitter

Philip Grone has the unenviable job of proposing which military posts to shut down.

Philip Grone, the Defense Department's deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment, sometimes gets gentle ribbing from his former colleagues on Capitol Hill. "There are folks who have occasionally joked with me, 'You used to be over here, and now you're doing this,' " says Grone, who spent about 16 years as a congressional staff member before coming to the Pentagon.

But when the Defense Department announces which military bases it will close or scale back in 2005, they might not be so gentle. Grone is the Defense point man on those closings and likely will face sharp questions when the Pentagon releases its list on May 16.

"This is really the last time in a political generation we can do [base closings]. We really have to get this right," says Grone, who aside from overseeing the base realignment and closure process manages $650 billion worth of Defense installations covering 460,000 square miles worldwide, including environmental cleanups at former bases. His job requires Senate confirmation.

In 2001, Congress reluctantly agreed to shut down bases only after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld argued that billions of dollars were being wasted on excess properties, money that could be better spent on new weapon systems or war costs.

Lawmakers always have been wary of closing bases, which provide federal jobs and often generate billions of dollars for local economies.

Grone, 44, was first introduced to military installations issues in 1994, when he was a staff member for the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight. He was helping then-Rep. James Hansen, R-Utah, come up with ways to protect jobs at the Hill Air Force Base repair depot in Utah. Those efforts led to a law that prohibits depots from contracting out more than 50 percent of that work.

At the Pentagon, Grone's role has shifted. Now he must base decisions about installations on their value to the military, not the number of jobs they generate for surrounding communities. "We can't have anything that even looks like politics in this process. It has to be driven by military value," he says.

Grone parlayed his experience with Hansen and several years as a legislative aide to former Rep. Willis Gradison, R-Ohio, into a series of jobs developing and managing the House Armed Services Committee's mili-tary construction budget.

With a reputation as a behind-the-scenes player, Grone garnered money for military installations even when defense budgets were tight. He helped craft legislation that enabled the services to build base housing without spending billions of dollars-through privatization. In 2001, he arranged a tour of 20 military bases with crumbling infrastructure that helped convince Congress to spend hundreds of million of dollars to make upgrades.

Grone's work caught the attention of the new administration, particularly Raymond DuBois, then the Pentagon's installations and environment chief, who hired him as his top deputy in 2001. When DuBois resigned in the fall, Grone was named his successor.

He is cautious about discussing BRAC deliberations. He'll only describe them as an "enormously complex task." Defense employees involved with BRAC analyses must sign statements promising they will not reveal any details. Even Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, who recently lobbied Grone at the Pentagon about keeping her state's bases open, told reporters the BRAC point man would not "tip his hand."

Grone shrugs off concerns about being too secretive and says his only goal is to come up with a well-reasoned list that will withstand the scrutiny of the BRAC commission, the president and Congress. In prior rounds, the commission backed 85 percent of Defense's recommendations. He says he's shooting for 100 percent this time.

If he succeeds, the folks on Capitol Hill won't be ribbing him anymore.