By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 13, 2005
The Pentagon, with less than 10 percent excess capacity at U.S. military installations, plans to close fewer major bases than expected in its latest round of consolidation, while still achieving savings of nearly $49 billion over 20 years, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld announced yesterday.
The scope of the closings will be significantly smaller than expected, Rumsfeld said, because of several factors: the return of 170,000 troops and family members from overseas, a shift of U.S. forces from leased buildings to more-secure military bases and the need to accommodate a possible increase in U.S. troop levels amid the war on terrorism.
Earlier projections had put the excess capacity of U.S. bases at "as much as 20 to 25 percent," Rumsfeld said. But "the actual number of the recommendations that came to me were less than that by a substantial amount. Instead of 20 to 25, it's closer to 5 to 10 percent, I think," he told a Pentagon news conference yesterday.
The United States currently has about 3,700 domestic military installations and locations, which occupy more than 27 million acres.
Rumsfeld said the Pentagon's list of base streamlining measures, scheduled to be made public this morning, would result in $5.5 billion in recurring annual savings, and a net savings of $48.8 billion over 20 years. That sum would grow to $64.2 billion when savings are included from planned changes to overseas bases, which are separate from the domestic Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process.
Four previous BRAC rounds between 1988 and 1995 eliminated an estimated 21 percent of excess U.S. military infrastructure. That included 97 major base closures, and saved about $29 billion through 2003, according to government figures.
Rumsfeld said he had "made no changes" to the recommendations submitted to him for the base closings and alterations, an indication of the far more complex decision making prompted by a global reposturing of U.S. forces. In contrast, closings were simpler to determine during the more predictable Cold War and early post-Cold War era, experts said.
Under realignment, the size of a facility could be increased or reduced.
Unlike previous rounds, which were based on a projection of military needs six years into the future, the 2005 round is based on a 20-year plan and a top-to-bottom inventory of U.S. military facilities around the world.
"You have the transformation of military forces, a 20-year time frame and a worldwide strategy. Those are all very different than before," said Dan Else, a Congressional Research Service analyst and a specialist on base closings.
While not saying so directly, Rumsfeld and other senior military leaders suggested that the base realignment could result in a consolidation of U.S. forces from different services in sprawling military facilities able to quickly expand when the military needs to build up and deploy large forces.
Asked whether the process would result in such mega-bases, Rumsfeld said "we're going to keep the same size military and have a surge capability and reduce the number of bases," implying that more forces will have to be concentrated in fewer, larger facilities.
Moreover, the military plans to reduce the amount of space it leases and consolidate forces in military-owned facilities as part of an effort to improve security for U.S. troops domestically, Rumsfeld said.
One major shift in the criteria for the latest round of consolidation is the emphasis on creating joint facilities where the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines can share resources. The Pentagon organization that drew up the list included seven groups in which the military branches explored how to pool resources in common areas such as medical care, intelligence, education and training, industry and logistics.
These "cross-service groups" had greater influence over the list than they did in the last round, when individual military services tended to dominate the process, experts said.
The Pentagon's list will go to the independent, nine-member BRAC commission for review. The commission can change the list only if it finds that the defense secretary "deviated substantially" from the set criteria used to generate the list.
A decision to add a base closing requires the approval of seven of nine commissioners; two of the nine must visit the base. Removing a base from the list requires a vote by a simple majority of commissioners, according to the commission chairman, Anthony J. Principi.
Principi has made it clear that his panel does not intend to rubber-stamp the Pentagon list. After a meeting with lawmakers Wednesday on Capitol Hill, he said he plans to have at least one commission member visit each base slated for closing, and will hold 15 regional hearings. The commission will present its recommendations in September to the president, who will either reject them or accept them entirely. Congress then must approve or discard the entire list without changes.