- The Washington Times - Friday, September 9, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Pentagon overestimated savings from base closings by $30 billion and some of its plans for streamlining the Army, Navy and Air Force might have made the services less efficient, a federal commission that reviewed the process said yesterday.

In its final report, the nine-member panel also questioned whether the Pentagon should have postponed the current round of base closings and consolidations, the first in a decade, until a major review of the national defense strategy was finished.

With its five months of work complete, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission voiced its concerns even as it approved roughly 86 percent of what Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld recommended as he sought to save money by getting rid of extra space in the domestic military network.

That’s on par with previous years, when commissions changed only about 15 percent of what the Pentagon proposed.

President Bush now must decide whether to accept the panel’s plan. Last month, the president, using the commission’s acronym, told reporters: “in order for the process to be nonpolitical, it’s very important to make it clear that the decision of BRAC will stand, as far as I am concerned.”

Mr. Bush still could reject the report altogether or send it back to the commission for more changes. Either of those options could open him up to criticism when his poll numbers are low and his administration is taking heat for its response to Hurricane Katrina.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman would not say whether Mr. Rumsfeld, who has expressed reservations about some of the commission’s changes, will recommend approval or rejection of the report.

After Congress receives the report from the president, lawmakers have 45 days to block it. The report will become law unless the House and the Senate pass a joint resolution objecting to it. That has never occurred in previous base-closing rounds.

Along with changes at hundreds of smaller facilities, the Pentagon had recommended closing 33 major bases. The panel approved 21 of those closures, but proposed scaling back forces at seven of those bases rather than shutting the doors entirely. In the most high-profile decisions, the panel decided to keep open five major bases the Pentagon wanted to scrap.

The Pentagon has claimed its plan, affecting military bases and communities from coast to coast, would save about $49 billion over 20 years.

But the commission said in its final report that the Pentagon wrongly attributed most of the savings to the relocation of 26,830 military personnel to other facilities. Agreeing with an earlier assessment by the Government Accountability Office, the commission said taxpayers would not see actual savings simply by moving personnel from one base to another. Those workers’ jobs would have to be eliminated for savings to be realized.

If the personnel “savings” were not included, the commission said the Pentagon plan would save only $19 billion.


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