By TARA COPP and LISA HOFFMAN
Scripps Howard News Service
May 09, 2005
Pentagon officials, who had earlier estimated that the list of expendable military installations would be revealed earlier next week, now are "90 percent" certain that the announcement will come next Friday.
The delay should not be interpreted as a sign of last-minute controversy, but instead as a reflection of the complexity of assembling what is likely to be a substantial report and coordinating its release to the public and local leaders, officials said. The department is required to release the list by May 16 to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, which will come up with its own recommendations on which facilities to kill or move.
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld tossed a tidbit of hope to the communities and service members fearing the worst when he told some newspaper editors Thursday that the excess military infrastructure that needs to be axed is half what had been estimated just a few weeks ago.
For more than a year, Pentagon leaders had said that about 25 percent of America's domestic bases were no longer needed due to the end of the Cold War, reductions in the armed forces and a change in the national security threats the country faced.
With about 425 bases now on U.S. soil, that translated into about 100 installations that could be shut.
In recent weeks, however, Rumsfeld said that the decision to shut bases in Europe and South Korea _ and redeploy 170,000 troops, family members and private contractors to existing stateside installations _ meant that the excess base capacity had actually shrunk to less than 20 percent.
In a Thursday television interview with Knight Ridder newspaper editors, Rumsfeld shaved the excess back once more, this time suggesting it could be as small as 10 percent.
On Capitol Hill, a few lawmakers are considering a last-ditch maneuver to try to derail the base-closing process by cutting funds for it that are included in the defense-spending bill now wending its way through Congress.
It would not be the first time a base-closing round was delayed by Congress, whose members are keenly interested in protecting their hometown economies. Last year, the House passed a bill delaying the coming round until 2007, but the Senate narrowly defeated it in the face of a threatened veto by President Bush.
Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., long an outspoken base-closing critic, is leading a long-shot House effort now to cut the $1.9 billion the Pentagon says it needs to spend on this round of closings. His objection is that "homeland security concerns have not been factored in," Taylor spokesman Stephen Peranich said.
But one potential ally, Rep. Joel Hefley, a Colorado Republican who had helped lead past opposition to closings, is unlikely to sign on, spokeswoman Kim Sears said Friday.
"This time around it may be difficult to amend the process," Sears said, citing the likely lack of support in the Senate and Bush's threatened veto.
Legislative observers give the 11th-hour attack little hope of success.
Ken Beeks, a defense analyst with Business Executives for National Security, a pro-base-closure group in Washington, said the last-minute maneuvers don't surprise him.
"The same people who always opposed (base closings) are taking one last stab at killing it," Beeks said. "I don't think it's going to work. The administration is staying strong at this point, and will continue the process."
Lisa Hoffman at HoffmanL(at)shns.com