- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 12, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Military base closings will be less severe than expected, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld indicated yesterday, saying he had scaled back his recommendations because the military had less surplus space than once estimated.

He predicted that his list of closures and realignments, if approved, would result in a net savings to the government of $48.8 billion over 20 years. That figure takes into account a recurring annual savings of $5.5 billion, partly offset by billions of dollars in closure expenses.

Previous estimates of savings from base closings have proved to be overly optimistic, although the Pentagon says it has recorded a net gain of about $18 billion from four previous rounds. Environmental cleanup is one of the biggest upfront costs.

More than two years in the making and wrapped in strict secrecy, the Rumsfeld recommendations on which of the Pentagon’s 425 domestic bases to close, shrink or expand are scheduled to be delivered this morning to a congressionally chartered commission.

Mr. Rumsfeld is expected to recommend that dozens of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps bases across the country be closed or realigned.

The commission will hold public hearings before presenting its recommendations to President Bush by Sept. 8.

At a Pentagon press conference, Mr. Rumsfeld said that domestic bases have 5 percent to 10 percent more space than they need. That contrasts with earlier estimates of 20 percent to 25 percent.

“The department is recommending fewer major base closures than had earlier been anticipated, due in part to the return of tens of thousands of troops through our global posture review and also due to decisions to reduce lease space by moving activities from leased space into [government-]owned facilities,” he said.

Mr. Rumsfeld said the military has so many pressing needs, including properly equipping its forces and reducing the stresses imposed by wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that it must economize.

He said the Pentagon stands ready to help ease the negative impact of base closings on communities that have long supported the military.

Mr. Rumsfeld was joined at the press conference by the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force, who all said the base-closing process would help their services.

“It’s a necessary step to improve the war-fighting capability of the joint force,” said Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Mr. Rumsfeld said, “Current arrangements pretty much designed for the Cold War must give way to the new demands of war against extremists and other evolving 21st century challenges.”

The military for years has been operating more bases than it needs for the 1.4 million troops on active duty. Throughout the late 1990s, Congress refused to authorize a new round of base closings.

Fewer bases would mean lower costs for operating and maintaining facilities.

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