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Base-closing commission begins work
Scripps Howard News Service

May 04, 2005

Washington - Members of the 2005 base-closure commission were sworn in on Capitol Hill Tuesday amid confusion over the effect returning overseas troops and state powers over National Guard units might have on their decisions.

The nine panelists are to assess Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's base-closure recommendations, expected to be released next week. The commission will then hold hearings and visit bases listed for closure throughout the summer. In September, the panel is scheduled to deliver its final recommendations to President Bush.

Chairman Anthony Principi, the former secretary of veterans affairs, said the commissioners will keep in mind that while "closure and realignment is relatively easy on paper, the ripples of the proposals that we send definitely will be tsunamis on the communities they hit."

Commissioners first heard a Government Accountability Office listing of results of the previous four rounds of closures and realignments, in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995.

Those rounds, to name a few developments:

  • closed or realigned 97 bases;
  • saved $29 billion, mostly from having fewer buildings to maintain, and personnel costs;
  • cost 129,649 civilian jobs, but, through community economic development, 85 percent of those lost jobs have been replaced.

The hearing was a chance for the new commissioners to ask the GAO, congressional experts and members of the intelligence community about lessons learned from earlier rounds, and about current events that might affect their decisions.

Principi had questions about recent announcements that some of the returning troops from Europe have already been committed to bases in Texas and Colorado.

"It seems to be a contradiction," Principi said. "We're asked to take (the returning troop numbers) into consideration, but on the other hand, the decisions already been made?"

Commissioner Philip Coyle, a former director of testing and evaluation at the Pentagon, said it "would be most unfortunate to close a base only to find out later that a bunch of troops from Germany and Japan were going to be moving there."

Panel member Samuel Skinner, a retired Army reservist from Illinois and former White House chief of staff and U.S. transportation secretary, asked for clarification on whether a governor could veto a base-closure decision. The question has surfaced in Illinois, where the governor has suggested that he has the power to veto commissioners' decisions if the panel votes to close one of his National Guard-inhabited installations.

Dan Else, a senior analyst with the Congressional Research Service, said current laws did not seem to allow for a veto, but noted that the Illinois attorney general is considering the matter.

Principi said the confusion probably won't be answered in time for their decisions.

"The National Guard issue might not get resolved in time; it might result in litigation," Principi said. "But those issues do need to be resolved."

He asked the experts what was the key lesson learned in previous rounds.

GAO Director Barry Holman said that sticking to the criteria set out to judge all the bases, and avoiding even slight deviations, would keep this commission from avoiding the politicization that eventually consumed the 1995 round.

"The way the (base closure) process is structured ... it's not perfect, but it is a solid foundation that has measures in place to try to establish integrity in the process," Holman said. Following the process, he said, was the best way to "ensure the confidence of the American public."


E-mail Tara Copp at CoppT(at)

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