- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 2, 2001

The Pentagon today will propose a new base-closing procedure that gives the defense secretary more power to select candidates for shutdowns while limiting options for an independent commission that would recommend a final list by July 2003.

The Pentagon will rename the process, once called the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Act, as the Efficient Facilities Initiative of 2001 (EFI), according to briefing documents obtained by The Washington Times.

"It improves the existing base closure process in new and innovative ways that harness the strength and creativity of the private sector and ensures the primacy of military value," the Defense Department documents state.

The plan requires congressional approval. Pete Aldridge, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, is scheduled to announce the proposed legislation today at the Pentagon.

The bill would give congressional leaders a bigger say in selecting the nine-member Efficient Facilities Initiative Commission.

All the changes seem designed to soothe Congress members' concerns that a new commission might recommend scores of home-state, job-producing bases for obsolescence.

Republican lawmakers also want assurances of no repeat of the last proposed base shutdowns in 1996, when President Clinton, facing re-election, attempted to ease the effects of closing two repair depots in voter-rich Texas and California by funneling private work to both sites.

Because of the political intervention, Republicans refused to approve another round of post-Cold War base shutdowns even though the Joint Chiefs of Staff asked for such a plan to save billions of dollars in operating costs.

The Bush administration law would allow such "privatization in place" only if that method is specifically approved by the defense secretary or the commission, or "is the most cost effective method of implementation," the documents state.

In June, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the Joint Chiefs of Staff asked Congress to approve another round aimed at closing 25 percent of the armed forces' far-flung network of bases and smaller facilities in the United States and overseas. The Pentagon contends it can save $3.5 billion annually.

The briefing documents say the defense secretary's list of proposed closings must be based on military value.

Legislation for the 1996 round provided no such guidance.

The EFI significantly curtails the commission's power by authorizing the defense secretary to block any closing the commission adds to his list.

The proposed legislation envisions this schedule:

• The defense secretary submits his plan by March 14, 2003.

• The commission reviews the plan and sends its list to the president by July 7, 2003. The president then has two weeks to accept or reject the recommendations on an "all or none" basis. If he accepts, he has until Sept. 3 to send the list to Congress.

• Congress has 45 days to either reject the list in total or let it take effect automatically. The defense secretary then may begin closing bases and must complete the process in six years.

A majority of lawmakers seemed agreeable to one more round earlier this year, but the administration then took several missteps, congressional aides said.

For one, the Pentagon proposed cutting the fleet of B-1 bombers and closing installations in Georgia and Kansas without conferring with those states' delegations.

Raymond DuBois, deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and the environment, committed a gaffe by saying the Pentagon would eye Southern bases for closure where urban areas had encroached on military operations. That angered several Southern lawmakers, who wondered if the process was rigged against them.

A congressional source said the Pentagon is estimating it has saved $15.5 billion through four previous base-closing rounds.

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