May 13, 2005
WASHINGTON - The Pentagon on Friday proposed shutting about 180 military installations from Maine to Hawaii including 33 major bases, triggering the first round of base closures in a decade and an intense struggle by communities to save their facilities.
Underscoring the sweep of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's plan, the 33 major bases he would shutter are more than any of the previous four rounds of closings. He also would close or reduce the personnel at hundreds of smaller facilities that would remain open.
Overall, Rumsfeld said his plan would save $48.8 billion over 20 years while making the military more mobile and better suited for the global effort against terrorism.
Rumsfeld's proposal calls for a massive shift of U.S. forces, leading to a net loss of 29,005 military and civilian jobs, including personnel who would be moved home from overseas. He proposed cutting a total of 218,570 military and civilian positions from some bases while adding 189,565 positions to others, Pentagon documents show.
The closures and downsizings would occur over six years starting in 2006.
"Our current arrangements, designed for the Cold War, must give way to the new demands of the war against extremism and other evolving 21st Century challenges," Rumsfeld said in a written statement.
Even as the Pentagon was announcing the proposed changes, some lawmakers were vowing to spend the next few months working to stop the closures altogether or at least to protect their states' bases, while others whose bases gained jobs praised the Pentagon proposal.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., condemned the proposal to close Otis Air National Guard Base on Cape Cod, saying, "Otis is the number one base for homeland defense on the entire East Coast. ... It simply makes no sense to close Otis in the post 9/11 world."
On the other hand, Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri pronounced himself "absolutely pleased" after learning his state would keep all of its bases. "That is the solid good news for the state of Missouri," said Skelton, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.
Rumsfeld also recommended pulling thousands of troops and civilian workers out of 29 large bases that would remain open, while adding at least 400 jobs to each of 49 domestic bases, with troops and other workers coming from other U.S. facilities or abroad.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said base closings are a necessary, if painful, part of transforming the military into a force matched to modern demands.
"We want to make sure that our troops, particularly those in combat, have all the resources they need to do their job," he said. But the White House, well aware of the dread in many communities, is focused on helping affected towns move on, with federal assistance available through the Defense, Labor and Commerce departments, he said.
Among the major closures were Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico, which would lose more than 2,700 jobs, the Naval Station in Ingleside, Texas, costing more than 2,100 jobs, and Fort McPherson in Georgia, costing nearly 4,200 jobs.
Other major bases - including the Army's Fort Bliss in Texas, the Naval Shipyard in Norfolk, Va., and Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland - would see gains, as they absorb troops whose current home bases are slated for closure.
Before closures or downsizings can take effect, the Defense Department's proposal must be approved or changed by a federal base closing commission by Sept. 8, and then agreed to by Congress and President Bush, in a process that will run into the fall.
In four previous rounds of closures starting in 1988, commissions have accepted 85 percent of bases the Pentagon recommended for closure or consolidation. However, the current commission's chairman, Anthony Principi, has promised not to rubber stamp Rumsfeld's list.
"We're going to be an independent check and assessment on the Department of Defense recommendations," Principi said Friday in an interview after reviewing the list. "I can assure the communities that we will be very fair, open and we will not politicize this process."
One major closure Rumsfeld seeks is Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, home to 29 B-1B bombers, half the nation's fleet of the aircraft, and the state's second largest employer.
Freshman Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., called the Pentagon "flat wrong" about Ellsworth, and he vowed to help lead an effort to delay the entire round of closures. "We will continue to fight to keep Ellsworth open," he said.
Rumsfeld also recommended closing the Naval Station in Pascagoula, Miss., which barely survived previous base closure rounds. The decision was a blow to Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., who had fought the 1995 round of closures. At stake are 844 military jobs and 112 civilian jobs.
New England took a major hit, and Connecticut suffered the biggest loss in terms of jobs with the proposed closure of the U.S. Naval Submarine Base in Groton, Conn. Shuttering the installation would result in the loss of 7,096 military jobs and 952 civilian jobs.
Calling the recommendation "irrational and irresponsible," Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., said, "It insults our history and endangers our future."
The base - which began construction in 1872 as the Navy's first submarine base - is homeport to 18 attack submarines and also home of the Naval Submarine School, three submarine squadrons staffs and other support facilities.
Another facility that barely made it through the previous rounds but showed up on the latest hit list was Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Maine, whose shutdown would affect 201 military jobs and 4,032 civilian jobs.
President Bush's home state wasn't immune from the chopping block. Texas is slated to lose 15 facilities. In addition to Naval Station Ingleside, the Red River Army Depot and several Reserve and Guard installations are on the hit list.
New Jersey's Fort Monmouth is also slated for closure, triggering an angered Democratic Rep. Rush Holt to vow to "Fight like hell to change it. I'm not about to let the Pentagon's error put the fort and the soldiers it serves in harm's way."
The Pentagon also proposed eliminating scores of Reserve and National Guard bases, part of Rumsfeld's effort to promote "jointness" between the active-duty and reserve units.
Pennsylvania would lose 13 facilities, including the Naval Air Station at Willow Grove, while Alabama and California - the state hit hardest in the previous four rounds of closures - are to see 11 installations apiece shuttered, mostly affecting Reserve and Guard units and Defense Department accounting offices. New York is to lose nine.
Base closings represent a high-stakes political fight, because they affect jobs in congressional districts.
When a U.S. military installation shuts down, its officers and their families are uprooted and relocated to facilities elsewhere, leaving holes in customer bases of local businesses.
"Affected communities will be offered support and assistance through the Office of Economic Adjustment following the completion of the process," Michael Wynne, the Pentagon's technology chief said at a briefing on the recommendations.
Nevertheless, targeted communities, with their well-being on the line, are expected to harness the efforts of lawmakers, local civic officials and hired lobbyists, as well as base commanders themselves, to try to convince the commission to keep their facilities up and running.
For years, the military has operated more bases than it needs for the 1.4 million troops on active duty. Congress has refused to authorize a new round of base closings since 1995 but reluctantly signed off on the idea last year after President Bush threatened to veto an entire spending bill.
Lawmakers say it is unwise to close bases while U.S. troops are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the Pentagon argues that the timing is perfect to enlist cost-cutting measures given pressures from the ballooning federal deficit and to reshuffle the stateside network of bases while it reshapes the entire military.
Closures in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995 eliminated or realigned 451 installations, including 97 major ones, resulted in a net savings to the government of about $18 billion through 2001. The Pentagon projects recurring annual savings of $7.3 billion from those four rounds combined.