Rumsfeld warns tinkering with list could unravel defense network

By Liz Sidoti: The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld warned a commission reviewing his proposal to close or downsize military bases that tinkering with even one facility could unravel plans for entire sections of the U.S. defense network.

“One must be careful about taking a selective look at individual components or pieces of these recommendations without considering how those components or pieces fit into the larger whole,” Rumsfeld testified Monday.

The first round of base closings in a decade seeks to save $48.8 billion over 20 years by streamlining services across the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, shutting down bases deemed inefficient and promoting cooperation among the four branches.

With the exception of skepticism over recommended changes to the National Guard and Reserve units, the congressionally chartered commission sounded largely open to the overall plan to close or reduce forces at 62 major bases and 775 smaller installations. Dozens of other facilities would grow, absorbing troops from domestic and overseas bases slated for closure or downsizing.

Anthony Principi, the commission’s chairman, told Rumsfeld that the nine-member panel “noted the complexity” of the proposal.

“It’ll make our work harder, but certainly we understand that and we’ll certainly take it into consideration as we look at the seamless whole and not just an individual military installation,” Principi said.

Several commission members praised the Pentagon’s efforts to eliminate redundancy — and expenses — by consolidating support offices and some operations across the four services, called “jointness” in Pentagon speak.

“You’ve made great progress,” said panelist Samuel Knox Skinner, a secretary of transportation under President George H.W. Bush. “I think everybody here supports where it makes sense: joint training, joint logistical work, joint technical work, and all of those things where they are very expensive to duplicate and replicate across this country, and I think you’ve taken a great step.”

Former Utah Rep. James V. Hansen, a Republican, lauded the Pentagon’s report. “You did an excellent job, and I just admire those folks who worked on it. I don’t know how many thousands of hours you put in this, but I’m sure there’s been quite a bit,” he said.