By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 17, 2005
The nine-member independent Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) quizzed top defense officials yesterday on the potential damage of base shutdowns on the recruitment and retention of National Guard and reserve forces sorely needed by a U.S. military at war.
In their first opportunity to challenge the Pentagon list, some commissioners voiced concern that the closure and downsizing of National Guard and reserve facilities would force personnel to travel greater distances to drill, thereby harming enlistment.
"I am concerned . . . about the impact on recruitment and retention," the commission chairman, Anthony J. Principi, said in an interview. "We need to look at that very, very carefully, especially as we are a nation at war and we are relying very heavily on reserve and Guard personnel."
More broadly, Principi said the review will focus on the 62 major bases the Pentagon has slotted for scaling back or closing, including a Navy submarine base in New London, Conn., the Portsmouth shipyard in Maine, Air Force bases in the Dakotas and Walter Reed Army Medical Center here.
"We are not a rubber stamp for the Defense Department," he said. "We are an independent check on the Defense Department, and at the end of the day we will make our recommendations to the president."
On the Guard and reserve base realignments, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified that no recruiting difficulties were "anticipated" by the BRAC process. But he added that "no doubt there will be some inconveniences, where somebody that was used to drilling a couple of miles away may have to drive further for that training."
Myers said many changes to the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve, in particular, were driven by the Pentagon's desire to consolidate aircraft units in order to better carry out missions. Centralizing aircraft will leave behind personnel who will be offered new combat support missions, such as providing command and control over unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), he said. But he and other officials indicated that some Air Force adjutant generals are unhappy about the mission shift. "There is a little bit more argument and consternation," within the Air Force over the change, said Michael W. Wynne, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.
Commissioners also questioned Myers and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on whether the base-closure plan was premature because the Pentagon has not completed a major review of strategy, the Quadrennial Defense Review, or an important study of military transportation capabilities.
"Is BRAC the cart before the horse?" Principi asked Rumsfeld.
In past rounds about 15 percent of the list has been altered, and the 2005 commission has until September to submit changes to President Bush. Rumsfeld said the BRAC proposals would close or downsize about 9 percent of major bases and save "up to" $48.8 billion over 20 years -- a shift from his statement last week that the cuts "should result in" that amount of savings.
Another commissioner, Philip Coyle, questioned whether the BRAC list had accounted for the return of 70,000 U.S. service members from overseas -- saying it included only 15,000 troops -- as well as the anticipated growth of the Army by 30,000 soldiers. "Let's not make our mistakes in a hurry," he said, quoting Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Rumsfeld said the closure list "is being informed by the Quadrennial Defense Review as it's going along." He said that although the timing of the overseas troop movements would depend partly on negotiations with host countries, BRAC decisions were made with "a high degree of confidence" on "what very likely will ultimately come back."
Rumsfeld also criticized as "notably unhelpful" a report released earlier this month by the Overseas Basing Commission that examined a Pentagon plan to realign U.S. military forces abroad. The report warned of national security risks if the Pentagon did not slow its shift of forces. But Rumsfeld said it contained incorrect information and classified information that revealed the U.S. negotiating position on bases with foreign countries.
Al Cornella, chairman of the Overseas Basing Commission, said the report's information comes from unclassified sources and that the Pentagon has not specified what information it considers classified. Cornella said the panel has asked for weeks to brief Rumsfeld on its report, but no meeting has taken place.
Several volumes of the BRAC report are being withheld as the Pentagon checks for classified information.