WASHINGTON – The base-closing commission voted Tuesday to add a handful of military facilities in eight states and the nation's capital to the hundreds that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld (search) wants to close or shrink.
The Navy Broadway Complex (search) in San Diego and the Naval Air Station (search) in Brunswick, Maine, now are on the list of installations to be closed. Under the commission's actions, the Naval Master Jet Base at the Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia and Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina could see even more force reductions than the Pentagon proposed or could be shut down.
Even small facilities were not immune. With an eye on possibly merging administrative, education and medical services, the commission voted to include several small installations in Colorado, Ohio, Indiana, California, Virginia and Washington, D.C., for consideration.
The Galena Airport Forward Operating Location in Alaska also now is on the list for either closure or downsizing.
In an afternoon of votes, the panel declined to add four other facilities.
The votes showed the independent commission's willingness to diverge — at least somewhat — from the plan Rumsfeld submitted in May, when he proposed closing or reducing forces at 62 major domestic bases and hundreds of smaller installations from coast to coast.
"This commission knows what it is talking about and is not a rubber stamp. We are an independent check on the power of the secretary to close and realign military bases," commission Chairman Anthony Principi said after the vote.
Some in Congress had feared the panel would simply sign off on Rumsfeld's plan without looking at options.
By adding bases to the list, the commission gave itself more flexibility to change what the Pentagon proposed as it considers shifting pieces of the mammoth domestic base network to better suit today's defense needs.
Earlier, Principi cautioned that adding a base to the list "does not necessarily mean that the base will be realigned or closed" but will allow the panel to further analyze those bases' usefulness by visiting sites, collecting data and holding hearings.
The panel will make final decisions next month about which bases to propose for closing or reductions, with President Bush and Congress making a binding decision in the fall. But the panel's actions Tuesday were sure to ignite a new round of lobbying by communities whose military facilities were being targeted.
In a reprieve for some communities, the commission decided against targeting four large bases for closure: the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego; the Naval Shipyard at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; Moody Air Force Base in Georgia; and Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota.
Others up for consideration weren't so fortunate. The San Diego facility has headquarters for Navy operations in the Southwest, while the Navy's tactical air units are trained and deployed from the Virginia base and the Air Force conducts joint tactical operations from the North Carolina installation.
The Brunswick air base is the last active-duty Defense Department airfield in New England and one of Maine's largest employers, with nearly 4,900 military and civilian workers. It had been slated for force reductions but now will be considered for closure. The Galena airfield is one of the two "forward operation locations" in Alaska that serve as alert bases for aircraft.
At this stage, adding bases to the Pentagon's proposed list of closures or consolidations will allow the commission to conduct public hearings, visit those sites and collect data, in some situations making direct comparisons with bases that perform similar missions and are slated for closure.
It took votes from seven of nine commission members to add a base to the list. The commission then will have to reaffirm each decision in August with seven of nine votes. Other bases on the Pentagon's list can be removed then with five of nine votes.
Commissioners also have expressed serious reservations with the Pentagon's plan to disband or move dozens of Air National Guard units. However, that issue was not slated to be voted on Tuesday, and commissioners were working behind the scenes to determine what to do with that part of the proposal.