By LAWRENCE M. O'ROURKE
July 19, 2005
Top military officials told the commission that base closures such as the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, and changes such as downsizing Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina were needed and acceptable. But expanding the base-closure list could jeopardize the nation's ability to deter terrorism or prepare for future wars, they warned.
The Pentagon's short list of closures and realignments drew criticism from David M. Walker, head of the Government Accountability Office.
Walker warned during a Capitol Hill hearing that Pentagon spending is contributing to a growing financial instability in the United States. He encouraged the Base Realignment and Closure Commission to expand the list of closures and realignments to save larger amounts of money.
Walker said that the base closing and alignment proposals put forth by the Pentagon might save $50 billion over 20 years, but that the price of the changes would be at least $24 billion. Walker said the actual cost of closing the bases, moving their functions and personnel elsewhere, and restoring the environment at the base sites could consume even higher amounts of projected savings.
Commission members suggested that they favor deeper cuts than the Pentagon has suggested, including merging the Marine Corps basic training camps in southern California and Parris Island, S.C., into one complex.
They also raised questions about the Navy's decision to maintain the Naval Shipyard at Pearl Harbor, rather than move its functions to Navy shipyards at Norfolk, Kittery, Maine, and Puget Sound, Wash.
Walker was skeptical about the Pentagon's decision to close the Portsmouth shipyard in Kittery. He noted that the action would result in the "expected loss of skilled personnel associated with maintaining nuclear-powered submarines." He said the Navy has acknowledged that it takes eight years to develop those skills and that the skills will be needed at other shipyards.
Without resolving any issue, the commission and Pentagon officials discussed the Pentagon's recommendation of a package of closings and downsizing. The Defense Department said the package would result in closing 33 major bases and changing missions at 29 others.
The military officers who testified before the commission Monday raised problems with a variety of proposed moves, contending, for example, that merging the two Marine training depots would hurt recruitment of young Marines.
Some of the Pentagon witnesses also expressed concerns about the Pentagon's own proposals, including moving more than 4,000 jobs from Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina.
The witnesses pointed out that the cutbacks at Pope had to be considered with operations at adjacent Fort Bragg, which is to get 4,200 more jobs under the Pentagon's proposal. But the issue was given only passing reference Monday.
The Pentagon witnesses and commission members also discussed, without resolving, such issues as whether a realignment of Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota would hamper development of unmanned aircraft. They also explored complaints from state government officials that the re-allocation of aircraft, personnel, facilities and missions of Air National Guard facilities would hamper a governor's ability to call on guardsmen to deal with natural disasters.
The commission is to decide Tuesday whether the Pentagon's list for closures and realignments should be expanded.
Retired Gen. James Hill, a commission member, warned that the military should not be forced to close a facility that it might someday have to use.
"When we close these bases, we're not getting them back," Hill said.
Retired Gen. Keith Martin, also a commissioner, said it was the same with overseas bases.
"Once we leave those countries we're not going back," he said. "Later you might say I wish I had that."
Michael Wynne, a Defense Department technology and procurement official who headed the Pentagon team that produced its base-closing package, said that changes to part of the list could disrupt the "comprehensive, integrated and interdependent" approach presented by the military.
Members of the BRAC commission are working under a law enacted in 1990 to identify military installations that could be dropped or changed to save money.
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