- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 3, 2005


The new round of U.S. military base closings “will be tsunamis in the communities they hit,” the chairman of the commission that will help decide which facilities survive said yesterday.

Anthony J. Principi said his nine-member commission, which yesterday met for the first time, will try to provide a “clear-eyed reality check” of the Pentagon’s list of domestic defense installations that should be shuttered or downsized. The Defense Department is expected to release that list next week.

Underscoring the economic impact that base closures can have, the Government Accountability Office issued a report stating that communities that lost bases in previous years “are continuing to recover” and have regained about 85 percent of the civilian jobs that were lost. The GAO is an investigative arm of Congress.

While the report said most affected communities are faring well when compared with the average U.S. unemployment and income-growth rates, it added, “The recovery process has not necessarily been easy.”

Mr. Principi told commissioners, congressional staffers, lobbyists and reporters jammed into a Capitol Hill hearing room: “The ripples of the proposals the secretary of defense will soon present to our nation, and to us, will be tsunamis in the communities they hit.”

The warnings from Mr. Principi and the GAO demonstrated the enormous consequences of the first round of upcoming closures in a decade — and the daunting task before the Base Closure and Realignment Commission.

The Pentagon is putting the finishing touches on its list of which of the country’s 425 major military installations to close or downsize. It is seeking to save billions of dollars per year by eliminating extra infrastructure it says was needed during the Cold War but has become obsolete as terrorism became the prominent threat.

Previous closures in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995 eliminated or realigned 451 installations, including 97 major ones, and saved about $29 billion through 2003, according to a report issued yesterday by the GAO. The report said the Pentagon should save $7 billion annually as a result of the previous closures.

Communities across the country are waiting anxiously to learn whether nearby military facilities will be spared.

States and cities — and their congressional delegations — are trying to avoid closures by making the case that their bases are crucial for national security.

Originally, defense analysts expected more bases would be closed rather than downsized during this round. But defense officials recently have suggested that fewer bases than expected will be eliminated to accommodate the estimated 70,000 troops and 100,000 dependents based in Europe who are slated to return to the United States.

The commission’s nine members were sworn in yesterday. The panelists, made up largely of retired military officers chosen by the president and congressional leaders, spent much of the first meeting listening to analysts give them a history lesson of the base-closing process and a status report of current national security threats.

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