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Rumsfeld Shies Away From Base Closings

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) suggested Tuesday that an upcoming round of military base closures (search) may not be as extensive as previously anticipated, saying the amount of surplus space on bases may be less than previously estimated.

Rumsfeld said he had no specific estimate of how much base capacity is surplus and therefore vulnerable to closure. However, when he pushed Congress hard in 2001 to approve the new round of base closings, he said the military had about 25 percent more base capacity than it needed. On Tuesday, he said the Clinton administration had put it in the 20 percent to 25 percent range.

"It looks now like the actual number will be less than the lower end of that range," he said. "How much less remains to be seen." He also said, "the fact that we're bringing so many forces home from overseas reduces that number."

Some 70,000 U.S. troops and 100,000 dependents are scheduled to come home from permanent bases in Germany and elsewhere during 2006 and after, as the Pentagon adjusts its worldwide presence in the face of the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the war on terrorism.

The Pentagon is due to submit its list of recommended base closures and realignments in May. Communities around the country, fearing the economic impact of a base closing, are mounting efforts to prevent their bases from being shut down.

Other opponents have criticized the shutdowns as dangerous while the nation is at war.

Lawrence Di Rita, Rumsfeld's chief spokesman, said later that the administration told Congress last year that it believed about 24 percent of its base capacity was surplus, but that figure was calculated before many of the troop movements were announced.

Rumsfeld says the closures will save billions of dollars a year because the military will not have to maintain and protect bases it doesn't need.

Previous closure rounds — in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995 — led to the closure or realignment of 451 installations, including 97 major ones.

Also Tuesday, Rumsfeld said he has recommended a replacement for his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz (search), to the White House, but he declined to identify the candidate.

Navy Secretary Gordon England (search) acknowledged he has been interviewed for the job and said, "I'd be pleased to serve if I was nominated," but he and other officials would not confirm he was Rumsfeld's pick.

The White House will issue its nomination, to be confirmed by the Senate, at an unspecified future date.

Wolfowitz, regarded as an architect of the Iraq invasion, is leaving to head the World Bank (search).

England is seen as less ideological than Wolfowitz and has followed a winding career through the Bush administration.

The Baltimore native started as Navy secretary in May 2001, then switched to the Homeland Security Department's No. 2 spot in January 2003, only to return to the Navy post nine months later after President Bush's choice for that job, New Mexico oilman Colin McMillan, committed suicide.

Rumsfeld also put England in charge of the thorny issue of the status of prisoners from the war on terrorism being held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. England has overseen review procedures at the prison, which resulted in the freeing of several detainees.

Before joining the Bush administration, England, 67, was an executive vice president with General Dynamics, a military contractor. He graduated from the University of Maryland in 1961 with a degree in electrical engineering. He received a master's in business administration from Texas Christian University in 1975.

Rumsfeld also said he has recommended a replacement for the No. 3 Pentagon official, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith (search), but he didn't identify that person, either. He said he has not picked a new Air Force secretary, another job England has been mentioned for.