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Washington Calling

Major base-closing plans ... Poky scientists ... More
by Lance Gay
Scripps Howard News Service


January 29, 2005

Washington - The Pentagon is piecing together its most radical base-realignment plans ever, impacting life on a quarter of all of its military bases and depots around the United States.

Expect closings that will be far more sweeping than previous rounds. Auditors claim the Pentagon would save $7 billion a year from those closings, and the Pentagon this year is under orders from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to reconfigure its forces to better fight the war on terrorism.

Translation: Expensive bases built to fight the Cold War are no longer needed.

Topping the hit list: Military depots, and small National Guard and Reserve bases. The generals and admirals estimate that at least $20 billion could be saved privatizing the routine repair work depots do overhauling ships, planes and tanks. States already have hired teams of $400-an-hour Washington lobbyists to defend the jobs of thousands of civilian mechanics and other employees.

Big bases aren't exempt. The Air Force brass grump that they can't let pilots train on Luke Air Force Base near Phoenix when endangered Sonoran pronghorn antelope are spotted nearby, and the admirals argue it would make economic sense to relocate Navy air support units to Arizona from the crowded and expensive real estate surrounding the U.S. Navy base in San Diego. Even the Pentagon's futuristic think tank, known as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the Army's highly praised operations in Natick, Mass., aren't sacrosanct.

In light of soaring federal deficits, congressional watchdogs are irate that House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., raised the top pay for House staff this year to $156,848. "Part of the ideal of working government is supposed to be public service," sniffed Tom Schatz of Citizens Against Government Waste.

North Korea's 1 million-strong army is shrinking. Dwindling food rations are producing shorter North Koreans, and because of poor nutrition Pyongyang is lowering its height requirements for military service to anyone taller than 4-feet-10.

Scientists are the first to moan about budget cutbacks in vital scientific research. But over the last five years, many scientists haven't been grateful enough for the grants they got to tell Uncle Sam what they learned, and how they spent their part of the $4 billion in money an agency distributes each year.

The National Science Foundation's inspector general looked at 151,000 grants the agency issued over the last five years, and found 71,500 reports were tardy. Some 200 reports were more than three years late, and the probe was unable to find any final reports on how 3,700 grantees spent their government money. There were fewer problems with engineering and other hard-science projects than with the social sciences.

The agency agreed to be more aggressive on deadlines.

Look for more companies to enforce draconian anti-smoking policies, even on those who smoke only at home on their own time.

John Challenger, head of workplace watchdog Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., says companies are under the gun to cut health-care costs and he wouldn't be surprised to see business try to control overeating and overdrinking as well.

Challenger said Weyco, a health-benefits firm in Michigan, was the first this month to fire four employees who refused to be tested for tobacco use. Union Pacific has stopped hiring smokers in seven states, and many companies are aggressively funneling smokers into smoking-cessation programs.



Contact Lance Gay at GayL(at)
Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,

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