WASHINGTON – The Pentagon has drawn up a shorter list than expected of U.S. military bases (search) to close, but targeted communities still face a long, uphill fight to save their installations.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) on Friday was to disclose a list of what was expected to be dozens of stateside Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine facilities he wants to shut or scale back. He said the move would save $48.8 billion over 20 years while reshaping the military for America's expected 21st century adversaries.
"Current arrangements pretty much designed for the Cold War must give way to the new demands of war against extremists," he told reporters Thursday.
Rumsfeld said his recommendation reflected that domestic bases have 5 percent to 10 percent more space than they need — less than half earlier estimates of 20 percent to 25 percent. He attributed the change to the planned return of tens of thousands of U.S. troops from abroad and the shift of military activities from leased to government-owned buildings.
The proposal will now be considered by a federal base closing (search) commission. In four previous rounds of closures since 1988, past commissions have signed off on 85 percent of bases the Pentagon recommended for closure or consolidation.
The latest round of closures — the first in 10 years — is part of Rumsfeld's transformation of a military designed to confront the Soviet Union into one better positioned to protect against foreign terrorists and threats from Asia.
Closing or downsizing some of the 425 major U.S. domestic bases would mean smaller costs for operating and maintaining facilities. It also would allow the Pentagon to promote greater integration of training among the military services — and between the active-duty and reserve forces — by having them share bases.
Release of the list, which was more than two years in the making and cloaked in secrecy, will spark a monthslong effort by lawmakers, communities and their hired lobbyists to convince the commission that their facilities shouldn't be closed or consolidated.
When a U.S. military installation closes, its officers and their families are uprooted and relocated to facilities elsewhere, leaving holes in customer bases of local businesses. Civilian personnel working at the installation lose their jobs, as can House and Senate lawmakers, whom voters may blame for the blow to local economy.
To that end, President Bush (search) on Thursday signed an executive order naming Rumsfeld or his designee to oversee a task force that assists "substantially and seriously affected communities, businesses and workers from the effects of major defense base closures, realignments and defense contract-related adjustments."
The Pentagon went to great lengths to keep the list under wraps. Anyone who worked on it, from outside consultants to military officers inside the Pentagon, was required to sign a nondisclosure statement to prevent information leaking out.
Elaborate plans also were made for alerting House and Senate members using 100 Honor Guards — 25 from each service branch — before the list is released publicly.
For years, the military has been operating more bases than it needs for the 1.4 million troops on active duty. Congress has refused to authorize a new round of base closings since 1995 but reluctantly signed off on the idea last year after Bush threatened to veto an entire spending bill.
Lawmakers say it is unwise to close bases while U.S. troops are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the Pentagon argues the timing is perfect to enlist cost-cutting measures given pressures from the ballooning federal deficit and to reshuffle the stateside network of bases while it works to reshape the entire military.
Closures in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995 eliminated or realigned 451 installations, including 97 major ones, resulted in a net savings to the government of about $18 billion through 2001. The Pentagon projects recurring annual savings of $7.3 billion from those four rounds combined.
By Sept. 8, this latest commission will have to submit its recommendations to the president, then must accept or reject the list in its entirety. Congress then has to accept or reject the report, also with no changes allowed.
The closures and downsizings would occur over six years starting in 2006.