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Military Base Closings Update

August 24, 2005 at 12:00 AM EST
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TOM BEARDEN: Over the last 13 weeks, members of BRAC, the Base Realignment and Closing Commission, visited every one of the 173 military installations around the country that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld recommended be shut down or reduced in size.

DONALD RUMSFELD: This year’s recommendation, if approved by the BRAC Commission, approved by the president and ultimately approved by the Congress of the United States, should result in some $5.5 billion in recurring annual savings; a net savings of $48.8 billion over 20 years.

TOM BEARDEN: The job of the commissioners was to review the recommendations, analyze the Pentagon cost savings data and force-structure plans. They also listened to those local communities most affected by the base closings, many of whom argued the savings the secretary envisioned just didn’t add up. Former Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Tony Principi, is chairman of the BRAC Commission.

ANTHONY J. PRINCIPI: We heard or raised ourselves serious questions about the department’s calculations of the costs and savings of its recommendations, the effect of their recommended realignments or closures on homeland security and the wisdom of proposals that would leave large areas of our country without active duty military installations.

TOM BEARDEN: This morning, with their research and review now complete, the commissioners began voting on Rumsfeld’s recommendations.

SPOKESMAN: All in favor? All opposed?

TOM BEARDEN: With little or no discussion, they agreed to shut down Forts Gillem and McPherson in Georgia, and Ft. Monroe, Virginia. But Commissioner Philip Coyle challenged plans to close Ft. Monmouth, New Jersey, and move its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance operations to Aberdeen, Maryland. Coyle said this was not the time.

PHILIP COYLE: Ft. Monmouth provides daily support to our war fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan, saving lives every day. Not only should we reject program disruption during a time of war, but we should reject program disruption to future Army transformation.

TOM BEARDEN: The commissioners compromised, agreeing Ft. Monmouth should be shut down, but not until the new facilities at Aberdeen are fully operational. They tinkered with several other recommendations as well, before rejecting outright two cornerstones of Secretary Rumsfeld’s base closing plan.

The Naval shipyard at Portsmouth has been operating for more than 200 years, but Secretary Rumsfeld argued that Portsmouth was one shipyard more than the Navy needed. The commissioners disagreed.

ANTHONY J. PRINCIPI: I believe that Portsmouth is truly the preeminent shipyard, public shipyard in this nation. It is the gold standard by which we should measure shipyards. It is a model for labor-management relationships. Its ability to turn around subs quicker than any other shipyard should be noted thereby saving the Navy significant dollars.

TOM BEARDEN: Rumsfeld had also called for shutting down the New London submarine base at Groton, Connecticut, and moving its operations to the bases at Norfolk, Virginia, and Kings Bay, Georgia. But the commissioners rejected that proposal, too. Retired Air Force Gen. Lloyd Newton:

LLOYD W. NEWTON: Not only is sub base New London a first class facility, as a matter of fact, it’s better known as the flagship of the submarine community. I find that it would be a big mistake to close this facility at this time.

TOM BEARDEN: Former White House Chief of Staff Sam Skinner:

SAMUEL K. SINNER: I think it’s unfortunate here that we had the inability to really look at all of the three submarine bases on the East Coast. I think the secretary picked the wrong one to eliminate. It is the center of excellence. It has been the center of excellence. It will continue, if it stays in place, to be the center of excellence in the world.

TOM BEARDEN: The BRAC commissioners are expected to work through the week and send their final list of recommendations to President Bush by Sept. 8. If the president accepts the list, he’ll send it on to the Congress, which can accept or reject, but not change.