WASHINGTON – The Pentagon's plan to restructure overseas military bases (search) and bring thousands of troops back to the U.S. underestimates long-term costs including potential negative effects on keeping soldiers in the military, says an independent review set up by Congress.
The report by the Overseas Basing Commission (search) is generally positive, but it raises concerns about how the Defense Department is realigning the bases abroad, according to two people familiar with it. They requested anonymity because it has not yet been released publicly.
The review is to be released early next month.
A key concern is that U.S. bases and their surrounding communities will not have either the money or the services necessary to handle the influx of service members shifted home.
Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Tracy O'Grady-Walsh, said details of the proposed realignment are still being worked out and some will depend on discussions with allied leaders. She said the changes will make future deployments overseas shorter and less frequent, meaning less disruptions for soldiers and their families.
In the next 10 years some 70,000 troops and 100,000 family members and civilian employees will be brought back from overseas bases. The Defense Department says it wants to consolidate bases abroad so the country can be better positioned for conflicts in widespread corners of the world.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (search) has said that 35 percent of the military's 4,702 Cold War-era bases, landing fields and other facilities will be closed, while sites in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe will be expanded. Of the properties, 860 are military bases.
The commissioners, in the report, question whether military officials have allocated enough money to move all the troops and relocate the equipment, services and infrastructure they need. And the report suggests that soldiers and their families will come home to bases and communities that won't have enough housing, schools and other services, according to those who have read the report.
Those problems could hurt the military's already difficult efforts to attract and retain troops, the review suggests.
Congress set up an independent commission in 2003 to review overseas base requirements and analyze the Pentagon's restructuring plan. The seven-member commission, which includes four high-ranking retired military officials from the Army, Navy, Air Force and National Guard, visited bases around the world and will release its report May 9.
The report will precede the Pentagon's release of its fifth round of recommended domestic base closings, and Commission Chairman Al Cornella said Congress can use the information as it considers the latter proposal, set to come out by May 16.
At a hearing last month, the No. 3 official at the Pentagon assured the commission that Rumsfeld was mindful of the impact on personnel.
"We have been focused on how the changes we are making are going to affect quality of life for the forces," said Douglas Feith, the outgoing undersecretary of defense for policy.