Rumsfeld Attends A Defense Base Closure And Realignment Commission Meeting
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Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld speaks to the Base Closure and Realignment Commission on Monday.
updated 5/17/2005 3:09:14 AM ET 2005-05-17T07:09:14

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.

Complex plan
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.

‘A great step’
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.

Uphill battle for base towns
Such receptiveness could be a bad sign for communities hoping to persuade the commission to spare facilities slated for closure or downsizing. Previous commissions — in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995 — changed only about 15 percent of what the Pentagon proposed.

The commission will spend the next few months deciding whether to change the report before sending it to President Bush and Congress this fall.

Rumsfeld testified that the sweeping reorganization was vital to success in the war on terrorism, adding that eliminating unneeded buildings to save money for combat capabilities was “more necessary, not less, during a time of war.”

Blow to recruiting?
A Democratic member of the panel, former Rep. James H. Bilbray of Nevada, questioned the impact of closing scores of Guard and Reserve units on recruiting and retention during a war in Iraq that “drags on.”

“You’re going to have a real enlistment problem with the Guard and Reserve,” Bilbray said.

Skinner also noted that 65 percent of closures are Guard and Reserve facilities and expressed concern about how far members of those facilities would have to travel to fulfill their duties. “It’s got to work for them if you’re going to recruit at the levels you need to,” he said.

Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, defended the massive reorganization of the Guard and Reserve, saying it will “help the reserve component modernize, improve their mobilization processes and transform for the 21st century security environment.”

Myers also said the centers would just be performing a different role and “none of these units go away.”

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