updated 5/12/2005 3:31:22 PM ET 2005-05-12T19:31:22

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld indicated on Thursday that his list of proposed base closings and consolidations is shorter than originally foreseen, and he said the changes, if approved, would save the government an estimated $48.8 billion over a 20-year period.

Rumsfeld told a Pentagon news conference that domestic bases have only 5 percent to 10 percent more space than they need. That contrasted with earlier estimates of a 20 percent to 25 percent capacity surplus.

Rumsfeld is scheduled to submit his recommendations to an independent base closing commission on Friday. He has been expected to propose that dozens of bases in the United States be either shut, reduced in size or, in some cases, expanded to accept additional troops from the U.S. or overseas.

At the news conference, Rumsfeld did not say how many bases he would recommend closing or downsizing. He said he was aware that base closures have significant economic impact.

“The changes that occur will affect a number of communities,” he said.

He said the Pentagon will take an active role in assisting communities that are negatively affected.

Service chiefs endorse process
Rumsfeld was joined at the news conference by the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force, who all endorsed the base-closing process and said it would help their services.

“Today, the Department of Defense again is in need of change and adjustment,” Rumsfeld said. “Current arrangements pretty much designed for the Cold War must give way to the new demands of war against extremists and other evolving 21st century challenges.”

Rumsfeld said that if the base closing commission, the Congress and President Bush approve his set of recommendations, the government will realize a net savings of $48.8 billion over the coming 20 years. A recurring annual savings of $5.5 billion over those 20 years would be partly offset by the cost of implementing the changes, including environmental cleanup costs.

Combining that with anticipated savings from changing the way U.S. forces are positioned abroad, the Pentagon would enjoy a net savings of $64.2 billion over that period, Rumsfeld said.

The military for years has been operating more bases than it needed for the 1.4 million troops on active duty. Throughout the late 1990s the Congress refused to authorize a round of base closings.

Previous official estimates put the base capacity surplus at between 20 and 25 percent, a range that Rumsfeld frequently cited as justification for initiating the politically painful process of deciding which bases to close.

‘Necessary step’
Appearing at the Pentagon with Rumsfeld, Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he endorsed the decision to cut bases and approved of the process that was used to reach decisions.

“It’s a necessary step to improve the war-fighting capability of the joint force,” he said.

The Pentagon has several motivations for seeking to close and downsize some of its 425 major U.S. domestic bases. One is economics. Fewer bases means smaller costs for operating and maintaining facilities. Another motive is to promote greater integration of training among the military services — and between the active-duty and reserve forces — by having them share bases.

State governments and their elected representatives are worried because losing a military installation could be a blow to the local economy, and they’re doing whatever they can to try to spare their bases.

The last round of base closings was in 1995, when 27 major bases were selected for closure and 22 were chosen for realignment. Minor adjustments were made at 57 other sites, and as of 2001 the actions together had yielded approximately a net wash in economic terms, costing the Pentagon $6.5 billion to implement the changes while saving $6.2 billion in operating and upkeep costs.

The Pentagon estimates that its 1995 base actions, combined with closings and realignments from 1988, 1991 and 1993, resulted in a net savings to the government of about $18 billion through 2001, and it projects recurring annual savings of $7.3 billion from those four rounds combined.

Commission can alter list
Although most of Rumsfeld’s recommendations are expected to be endorsed by the base closing commission, after a series of public hearings, the commission can under certain circumstances remove some bases from the defense secretary’s closure list and it also can add bases.

The commission has until Sept. 8 to forward its final recommendations to President Bush, who has until Sept. 23 to either accept them in total or reject them in total. If he rejects them, the commission must submit a revised report to Bush by Oct. 20, and he has until Nov. 20 to act on it.

If Bush approves the recommendations, then Congress must either accept or reject the list in whole.

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