- The Washington Times - Friday, November 15, 2002

A senior Pentagon official is moving to close down "out of favor" defense facilities, according to an internal memo that some congressional sources say violates an agreement with President Bush on base closings.
After hard-fought negotiations, members of Congress agreed last year to Mr. Bush's demand to close bases and facilities. The final decisions on closings will rest with an independent commission, which begins work in 2005.
But Michael Wynne, the Pentagon's No. 2 acquisition official, has ordered the creation of an internal committee to identify weapons and science laboratories for closure, according to his Oct. 29 memorandum, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times.
Mr. Wynne wrote that after a discussion with a defense advisory committee, "the conclusion that I drew is that labs are out of favor and no longer have a constituency within parent organizations. Their budgets are cut, people are discouraged and their overall utility is in question."
The memo from Mr. Wynne, the principal deputy undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, went to the Pentagon's director of defense research and engineering.
Mr. Wynne ordered the creation of a committee to identify "those laboratories that are imperative for defense to retain" and proposed that "remnants of the service laboratories" be combined into one "Defense Research Laboratory."
Some functions could be given to the private sector, he stated.
Mr. Wynne is taking aim at a network of more than 100 labs, employing thousands of workers across the country. The Army, for example, operates labs in Aberdeen and Adelphi, Md., Natick, Mass., Redstone Arsenal, Ala., and Yuma, Ariz., among other locations.
Said a Capitol Hill source, "It looks like the Pentagon is jumping the gun on base closings. The deal was 2005."
Mr. Bush wanted to start the politically painful process in 2003, and threatened to veto the 2002 defense bill unless it authorized base closings.
A Pentagon official, who asked not to be named, said it would be "premature" to publicly comment on the memo because its details are still being "clarified."
The official said a meeting is scheduled next week among senior acquisition officials. "Everybody is looking to straighten it out," the official said.
But the Wynne proposal is already meeting resistance inside the Defense Department from lab proponents.
They are citing recent studies that state the importance of retaining in-house technicians to conduct research and development as the labs produce breakthroughs in sensors and other surveillance tools.
A study done during the Clinton administration stated, "The technical capability of responding rapidly to emergency situations and trouble-shooting requirements is essential in solving operational problems."
The study added, "A cadre of highly skilled in-house specialists can best respond to situations of this nature."
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has argued that the armed forces can save $3.5 billion annually, beginning later this decade, by closing 25 percent of its facilities and bases.
Congressional opponents argued that the early stage of the war on terrorism was not the time to start closing bases. They also say the defense labs can be an incubator for new technologies needed to fight terrorists.


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