- The Washington Times - Monday, August 1, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A shake-up of dozens of Air National Guard units has emerged as the most contentious part of the Pentagon’s proposal to close or restructure hundreds of military bases across the country.

States are suing over the issue. Lawmakers in both parties are griping. And the independent commission reviewing the overall proposal has serious concerns about the effect of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s Air Guard plan.

A major question about that plan also remains unresolved just weeks before the commission’s September deadline to send its recommendations to President Bush: Does the law allow the Pentagon to move Air Guard units without the consent of state governors, who through their adjutants general share authority over the units with the president?

“This thing is amazing in its incompleteness and in the disruption that it has caused, the insecurity that it has caused. And, I’m just, frankly, appalled,” said Rep. John Kline, Minnesota Republican.

Pennsylvania and Illinois have filed lawsuits to stop the Air Guard changes, arguing that the federal government is out of bounds because it failed to consult the states. Other states may join those suits.

“Unless the commission wants to see the entire process held up by a legal recourse … my guess is that in all likelihood the Air Guard bases are going to be removed from the list” of proposed closures, said P.J. Crowley, a Clinton administration military adviser who is an analyst with the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.

In May, Mr. Rumsfeld proposed shutting or consolidating 62 major U.S. military bases and hundreds of smaller facilities, prompting lawmakers and communities to feverishly lobby the commission to spare their hometown facilities.

Only a fraction of the $49 billion Mr. Rumsfeld says his plan will save in 20 years would come from the Air Guard reorganization. But the effect on the Air Guard would be dramatic.

With about 106,000 members, the Air Guard has units stationed at about 95 Air Force bases and separate Air Guard installations and on leased land at 78 civilian spots, including local airports.

Mr. Rumsfeld’s proposal would shift people, equipment and aircraft at 54 sites where Air Guard units are stationed. Half would grow, with the rest slated for closure or downsizing, including many units that would continue to exist with no planes assigned to them.

The Pentagon says the Air Guard changes are part of an effort to reshape the Air Force “into more effective fighting units” by consolidating a force that is now “fragmented into small, inefficient units.”

Lawmakers, states and commissioners worry about the potential effect of the Pentagon proposal on recruitment, retention and training, and question whether the Air Guard will be able to fulfill its homeland security mission.

Anthony J. Principi, the commission’s chairman, has appealed to all involved groups “to work to a solution that best serves the interests of our national security and our country.”

Mr. Principi has since scheduled an Aug. 11 hearing to address the Air Guard plan.

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