By Lolita C. Baldor
Friday, May 27, 2005
Senators scrambling to head off proposed military base closings in their states are pressing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to release all the data used to decide which bases to shut down.
Nearly two dozen senators from Maine to Nevada have signed a letter that will go to Rumsfeld today, saying they need to know how the Pentagon ranked the bases and determined their military value.
Governors from 14 states, meanwhile, sent a similar letter to President Bush yesterday, asking him to direct Rumsfeld to release all the information and request a delay in the base-closing process until the information is made available and there has been time for review.
Federal statute, said the governors, requires that the information be delivered no more than seven days after the list of proposed closings is released. The list was made public May 13.
In their letter, the senators noted that "Congress designed this process to be open and transparent."
In recent hearings, Defense Department officials said military value was a key factor in deciding which bases would close. They described the scores given to some bases, but they have not yet released backup material.
Members of the Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) began visiting bases this week. They have scheduled the first regional hearings on the closings for early next month.
"If the Department continues to delay the release of this data, communities adversely impacted by BRAC, and the BRAC commission, will be unable to assess the Department's recommendations in the limited time allotted to them," the bipartisan group of senators said in the letter.
They further wrote: "We urge you to release this data immediately to avoid undermining the BRAC process."
Among the senators who signed the letter were Christopher S. Bond (R-Mo.), Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), Democratic leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.), John Thune (R-S.D.) and James M. Talent (R-Mo.). The Missouri congressional delegation sent the same letter earlier this week.
Defense Department spokesman Glenn Flood said the material will be released but it is going through security checks because some information is classified.
"We realize the concern," he said. "We're working very hard on it."
Members of the base-closing commission are visiting eight bases in five states next week, including Naval Station New London in Groton, Conn.; Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine; Otis Air National Guard Base on Cape Cod, Mass.; Willow Grove Naval Air Station in Pennsylvania; and Fort Monmouth in New Jersey. They were completing a three-day visit to Virginia yesterday.
At least four members of the panel plan to tour the Groton base, including Chairman Anthony J. Principi. Two members are heading to the Portsmouth shipyard, and one member -- retired Air Force Gen. Lloyd Newton -- is to tour Otis.
A plan announced May 13 would close 33 major bases and downsize 29 others, saving an estimated $48 billion over 20 years.