- The Washington Times - Monday, August 6, 2001

President Bush is proposing that a new military base-closing commission be empowered for the first time to recommend shutdowns of Energy Department nuclear weapons facilities, administration officials say.
Expanding the independent commission's power is adding to opposition on Capitol Hill.
Congressional sources are referring to the DOE option as a "stumbling block" to winning congressional approval for another round of post-Cold War base closings.
The sources said New Mexico's congressional delegation likely would oppose the legislation because its state is home to Energy Department nuclear weapons research sites.
An administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity defended the DOE proposal sent to Capitol Hill. The official said it makes sense for the Pentagon and the commission to scrutinize bomb-making plants because Mr. Bush plans to reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal of about 7,000 warheads. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is now overseeing a nuclear forces review and is expected to make recommendations for trimming weapons this fall.
"A good third of overall DOE infrastructure relates to labs and nuclear production that is linked to Defense Department requirements," the official said. "So if we change the strategic force related to the nuclear equation, we need to look at these facilities."
While the official said the administration plans to stick by its plan despite congressional complaints, it backed away from two parts of the proposal originally outlined to congressional aides on Wednesday.
The Pentagon has abandoned a plan to give the defense secretary veto power on any base the commission added that was not on his roster of recommendations.
Under the proposed law, the president would be able to either reject or accept the entire list but would have no authority to block a particular panel selection.
Second, the administration is reverting to the old system of empaneling the nine-member commission, which will require Senate confirmation. The proposed legislation had included language that allowed the president to pick the nine members based on suggestions from congressional leaders. The revamped plan gives congressional leaders six selections and the president three.
The administration official said the now-discarded appointment plan was designed to keep politically driven appointees off the commission in favor of people with national security expertise. He noted that one panel member who served in 1995 on the last commission was a refrigerator salesman.
In another possible stumbling block, congressional sources say they want the Pentagon to change the proposed legislation to allow the defense secretary to designate certain bases off-limits because of their national security importance. If this is done, the sources said, it would spare some communities the expense of having to hire consultants to protect their bases.
But Pete Aldridge, the Pentagon's top acquisition official, seemed to rule that option out. "That would really politicize the process because everyone would be clamoring to get their bases on that list," he said last week.
The Pentagon announced its base-closing plan Thursday, saying it has 25 percent excess capacity and can save $3.5 billion annually, starting later this decade.
But fierce opposition is already placing the plan in doubt, even though key senators, including Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, are pushing base closings.
Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, Maine Republican, issued a statement that was headlined, "Snowe vows continued opposition to base closings."
"I am concerned that if another base-closure process is approved, we will lose more installations critical to the support of our military capacity," Mrs. Snowe said. Her state is home to the Portsmouth naval shipyard. The 1995 commission added the Portsmouth yard to its recommended list over Navy objections. But Mrs. Snowe and other New England lawmakers persuaded the panel to take it, and its 3,500 jobs, off the list.
Congressional sources say there are four major Army posts that are prime closure candidates: Fort Drum, N.Y.; Fort Knox, Ky., Fort Carson, Colo.; and Fort Riley, Kan. The sources said the Army has excess training capacity and could shift its armor school at Fort Knox to Fort Hood, Texas.
The administration official also said the proposed law will give the independent commission new authority to close and move federal agencies that sit on or adjacent to a military base that is recommended for closing. But the official said there will be no effort to target NASA facilities that sit next to a closing base.
Under the plan's timetable, the defense secretary will make his recommendations to the commission by March 2003. The panel will have until the following July to approve its list, which the president and Congress may either reject or accept.
Asked whether he is confident a base-closing bill will be approved by Congress, Mr. Rumsfeld said: "The answer is no, I'm not. No one could be. It is a very difficult thing to do."

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