WASHINGTON – The Justice Department (search) is siding with the Pentagon (search) in a dispute with some states, concluding that governors' consent isn't needed for the military to move Air National Guard (search) units.
The Pentagon's proposal to close or reduce about 30 Air Guard units has emerged as the most contentious issue facing the independent commission that will decide next month which parts of the Defense Department's base-closing plan to accept or change.
Giving governors what would amount to veto power over the Pentagon's plans, at least with respect to National Guard units, would undermine a process created by Congress to reduce the role of politics in deciding which bases to close, the department said in response to a lawsuit filed by the state of Pennsylvania.
Illinois has filed a similar lawsuit, arguing that the Pentagon doesn't have the authority to move units without the approval of the governors, who share control with the president over use of the units.
In siding with the Pentagon, Justice lawyers said Pennsylvania was asking to return "to a system in which local politics, rather than national planning, determined which facilities were closed and which were spared."
Pennsylvania officials questioned the propriety of the Justice Department offering opinions to the base closing commission while also representing the Defense Department against the state's lawsuit.
"Where is the independent judgment or analysis?" asked Adrian R. King Jr., an aide to Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (search).
"As far as this state's concerned, the only opinion that matters is the opinion of a judge in a court of law and that's why we filed the lawsuit," King said.
The Pentagon wants to shift people, equipment and aircraft among at least 54 sites where Air Guard units now are stationed. Roughly two dozen sites would expand, while about 30 would be closed or downsized. In many cases, units would continue to exist but no planes would be assigned to them.
The Air Force says units without planes would receive new non-flying missions and also would retain their roles in supporting the needs of governors during statewide emergencies.
For their part, state adjutants general, who oversee the Air Guard in the states, argued that the plan would prevent units from fulfilling their homeland security missions, including protecting the skies and supporting governors in state emergencies.
The base-closing commission has until Sept. 8 to present its recommendations to President Bush, who can accept or reject it whole, but not part.