States Fight Base Closures

Hit hardest by military base closings in the past, California enlisted some heavyweights to help the state avoid taking a beating in the latest round.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (search), who knows something about playing tough, has brought in several well-connected consultants to lobby on behalf of his state's military installations and work with communities to improve the chances that these major contributors to their local economies will be spared.

Other states are taking the same approach as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld prepares to recommend which installations to shut down and which missions to relocate as part of military cost-cutting and realignment. The list is due to a nine-member independent commission by May 16.

In Florida, Gov. Jeb Bush formed what he has called "a dream team" of retired military officers, former defense officials and one-time Congress members. Massachusetts, Maine, Texas and Washington are among the others that have enlisted officials with close ties to the base-closing process.

"They're all trying not to get on the list," said Christine Kelley Cimko, a member of the Virginia Advisory Commission on Military Bases (search) who worked on base-closing commissions in the 1990s.

California has the most to lose this year, with 62 installations remaining. The state lost the most bases, 24, during the four previous base-closing rounds between 1988 and 1995.

So, Schwarzenegger hired the firm of Clark & Weinstock (search), which employs former Democratic Rep. Vic Fazio of California and David J. Berteau, a former assistant defense secretary whose duties included closing bases. Leon Panetta, who served as White House chief of staff in the Clinton administration, is volunteering for the team.

In previous decades, communities typically hired lobbyists late in the process to argue that closing their hometown bases would cost jobs and lower demand for goods and services.

Since the last round in 1995, states and cities have recognized that they must try to keep their bases off the list in the first place. They also have figured out that every other community is arguing economic hardship and a more persuasive case is necessary.

Today, states and cities rely on retired military officers, former lawmakers and one-time panelists on base-closing commissions to help them make their bases less attractive to closure — and more attractive to getting jobs from bases that are downsized.

Communities won't say how much they are paying and consultants won't say how much they charge. Some are volunteering their time. But base-closing experts estimate that millions of dollars are being spent for lobbying and guidance.

"They're all much more sophisticated about it," said Panetta, co-chairman on the California Council on Base Support and Retention (search).

In Beaufort, S.C., the county and the Navy sought to head off a potential problem of civilian encroachment by buying the development rights to 69 acres of land around the Marine Corps Air Station to ensure a buffer zone of farm land.

"Now, you have to not only defend yourself against closure but make yourself appealing as a place to expand to," said John Payne, chairman of the Beaufort Military Enhancement Committee (search) and a retired Marine Corps reservist. "The Department of Defense wants to do business where they're wanted."

In New Jersey, five mayors of towns around Fort Monmouth commissioned a study on how they can make the base more cost-effective for the Pentagon by providing services such as street cleaning and garbage disposal.

Contractors who do business with the fort formed a group, the Patriots Alliance (search), and enlisted former military officers and defense officials to lobby Washington.

In Enid, Okla., the home of Vance Air Force Base, Mayor Ernie Currier and the Vance Development Authority are getting advice from retired Air Force Gen. J.B. Davis, a member of the 1995 base closure commission.

"That's exactly why we hired him. We wanted to get a feeling of what the commissioners are feeling and thinking," Currier said.

Over the past few years, the city worked with the base to start building a logistics center to centralize all base operations, create a half-mile buffer around the base, and improve schools attended by military families — all changes they hope will keep Vance off the list.