- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 9, 2001

The slumping economy may stiffen Congress' resistance to closing military bases, but Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld says the changes are necessary to save billions the military needs to spend elsewhere.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Mr. Rumsfeld said Americans must understand that if the military is forced to keep open unneeded bases, it will be starved of money it needs to modernize.
Mr. Rumsfeld dismissed concerns by many politicians that closing bases will hurt local economies. "Life's hard," he said. "Yeah, it might" be more difficult to sell in Congress now that the economic boom is over. "But first of all, the economy's still growing, it's not in the dumps. And second, national security is darned important."
In a 45-minute interview Friday, he disclosed that he intends to announce this week a plan for substantially reducing the Pentagon bureaucracy by combining some of the civilian and military staffs in the armed services, reducing layers of civilian management and making across-the-board cuts in headquarters staffs.
Mr. Rumsfeld indicated the reductions would be less than 10 percent. He declined to give a specific figure or estimate how much could be saved.
The across-the-board cutbacks would mirror the "mindless, crude" reductions institutions sometimes are compelled to make out of economic necessity, Mr. Rumsfeld said. He said he would take special care to ensure that truly vital functions are not eliminated.
"You don't want to simply blindly reduce numbers in an organization where you have a thin veneer of civilian leadership," he said.
Mr. Rumsfeld said he was encouraged that the Senate Armed Services Committee on Friday voted for a new round of base closures. While acknowledging that the committee traditionally supports Pentagon cost-saving initiatives, he said some members who voted for it this time had opposed it last year.
Winning approval in the House may be more difficult.
In the past, the Pentagon has taken one of two approaches to paring bases: close them and sell the property after investing huge sums to clean up the environmental damage they had incurred in decades of use; or realign them by shifting people from several smaller bases to one large one.
This time, Mr. Rumsfeld said, the Pentagon is proposing a wider variety of options, including:
Mothballing some bases. He called this "pickling" to stop using the base but keep the property. This avoids the often-enormous expense of environmental cleanup and keeps the base available for use in a national emergency. Taking this approach could save "a bucket of dollars," he said.
Close only part of a base.
Mothball part of a base and keep the rest open.
Move people from high-rent office space onto bases that have extra room.
Keep a base open but lease part of it rather than selling it.
Whatever the approach, Mr. Rumsfeld said, the goal should be to make it as simple and painless as possible.
"Try to do it in a way with the minimal trauma on the community. Get into it, get it over with and don't try to cut off the dog's tail one inch at a time hoping it hurts less," he said.
The Pentagon has proposed to Congress that in 2003 an independent commission act on recommendations from the Pentagon on which bases to close or consolidate. Mr. Rumsfeld said a single round of cuts could save the Pentagon $3 billion a year, although the savings would not start for several years.
Mr. Rumsfeld said he felt strongly that despite the political cost of asking Congress to close bases, it is necessary.
"Why the hell would I leave Illinois and Taos, New Mexico, and come down here simply to sit around with my finger in my ear and not do what I think is in the best interest of the country?" he asked, referring to his hometown of Chicago and his ranch in Taos. "It seems to me it's the right thing to do. The fact there are people fussing about it … doesn't surprise me."
He noted that President Bush fought the Pentagon on closing bases in Texas when he was governor.

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