Panel wraps up base closing work

By Liz Sidoti: The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A federal commission wrapped up its review of the Defense Department’s plan to close and consolidate domestic military bases Saturday, having made changes that it acknowledged would save billions less than the Pentagon’s nearly $50 billion estimated savings.

Chairman Anthony Principi said the panel successfully balanced “proposals to restructure military infrastructure against the human and painful impact of those proposals.”

Commissioner Harold Gehman added, “We worked really hard to find the right answers.”

Only five of the nine commission members were present to make closing remarks on the final day of four days of deliberations. The Saturday session, simply a formality, lasted only 30 minutes.

The hard work was completed Friday, as the panel took up two of the Pentagon’s most contentious proposals. It dealt the Pentagon setbacks in both cases.

Rejecting Air Force proposals, the commission crafted its own shake-up of the Air National Guard and voted to keep open Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota.

By Sept. 8, the panel must send its final report to President Bush, who can accept it, reject it or send it back for revisions. Congress also will have a chance to veto the plan in its entirety, but it has gone along with four previous rounds of base closings. If ultimately approved, the changes would occur over the next six years.

The Pentagon proposed closing or consolidating a record 62 major military bases and 775 smaller installations to save $48.8 billion through 2025, make the services more efficient and reposition the armed forces.

But the commission — which cast doubt on the Pentagon’s savings projections — said its changes would lower the estimated savings to $37 billion over two decades.

Commissioners said the estimate could be as low as $14 billion when dollars the Pentagon says would be saved by the transfers of military personnel from one base to another were excluded. The commission has long questioned that accounting method, saying it didn’t free up real dollars that could be spent elsewhere.

Principi called the numbers “very preliminary.”

He and his panel worked into the evening Friday as members concluded the high-stakes decisions that brought sighs of relief or exasperation from communities across America.

By The Associated Press
A look at a federal commission’s decisions on the list of major bases the Pentagon wants to close. The Pentagon defines “major” as facilities whose replacement cost would be $100 million or greater.

CLOSE (as Pentagon recommended)
—Kulis Air Guard Station (closure was conditioned on there being enough federal money to relocate operations elsewhere)
—Naval Weapons Station Seal Beach Concord Detachment
—Riverbank Army Ammunition Plant
—Onizuka Air Force Station
—Fort McPherson
—Fort Gillem
—Naval Air Station Atlanta
—Newport Chemical Depot (closure was conditioned upon completion of treaty obligations)
—Kansas Army Ammunition Plant
—Otis Air National Guard Base
—Selfridge Army Activity
—Mississippi Army Ammunition Plant
—Naval Station Pascagoula
New Jersey:
—Fort Monmouth (closure was conditioned on an assurance that research under way in connection with the war on terrorism won’t be disrupted)
—Umatilla Chemical Depot (closure was conditioned upon completion of treaty obligations)
—Naval Air Station Willow Grove
—Lone Star Army Ammunition Plant
—Naval Station Ingleside
—Brooks City-Base
—Deseret Chemical Depot (closure was conditioned upon completion of treaty obligations and a study to see if the depot can be converted for another use)
—Fort Monroe
—General Mitchell Air Reserve Station

KEEP OPEN (either wholly or partially, rather than close as the Pentagon wanted)
—Naval Support Activity, Corona
—Submarine Base New London
—Naval Support Activity, New Orleans
—Portsmouth Naval Shipyard
—W.K. Kellogg Airport Air Guard Station
—Hawthorne Army Depot
New Mexico:
—Cannon Air Force Base (would stay open until at least Dec. 31, 2009, and sets conditions for Pentagon to continue operating it after that time).
New York:
—Niagara Falls International Airport Air Guard Station
—Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station
South Dakota:
—Ellsworth Air Force Base
—Red River Army Depot

CLOSE (rather than downsize as Pentagon wanted)
—Naval Air Station Brunswick

KEEP OPEN (rather than drastically downsize as the Pentagon had wanted)
—Eielson Air Force Base.

The commission also decided to keep open two bases it had considered closing, but it added conditions in both cases. The Pentagon wanted all along to keep them open. Those bases are:
—Broadway Complex San Diego
—Oceana Naval Air Station