The politics of the military-industrial complex, usually discreetly hidden, are in full view this week as the 9-member Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (usually called the BRAC Commission, for "Base Realignment and Closure") deliberates on the Pentagon's recommended adjustments to its gargantuan "empire of bases," to use historian Chalmers Johnson's term. -- Or rather, to the domestic part of this empire, where because of the political nature of the beast there are constraints on the Pentagon's freedom to build and shut down bases at will. -- One more indication that the U.S. national security state regards the "war on terror" and the Iraq-Iran-North Korea "axis of evil" as temporary post-Cold War stop-gap principles of political legitimation pending a long-range emergence of China as the New Enemy emerged from the BRAC Commission's decision to reverse closure of two naval bases in the Northeast. -- "On Wednesday, the commission voted against closing the oldest American submarine base, in Groton, Conn., and the historic Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Me., its most significant deviations from the Defense Department recommendations," wrote David Cloud in the Thursday's New York Times. "The commission's chairman, Anthony J. Principi, said the Pentagon's recommendations on the two installations were overturned because of uncertainty about whether the Navy, which is shrinking, will need to grow in response to China's naval buildup, as well as concern about losing expertise at both places." -- Also of note was the intervention of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jimmy Carter's intervention in favor of the submarine base at Groton. - - The Los Angeles Times reported on the BRAC Commission's decision much more dramatically, calling it an "unusual rebuke of the Bush administration's approach to restructuring the nation's defenses." -- John Hendren said "it marked the sharpest disagreement between the Pentagon and any review panel in 17 years of military cutbacks that were triggered by the end of the Cold War," and was "a major reversal for a Pentagon plan that critics said would have 'demilitarized' the Northeast." -- The closing of the submarine base was opposed by "a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, three former chiefs of naval operations and other retired high-ranking Navy officers," Hendren noted. -- On Naval Submarine Base New London, as the Groton facility is called, Hendren reported: "Principi and [Gen. 'Fig'] Newton said emerging threats from Asia required continued naval readiness, apparently referring to China's growing navy. 'If we close New London down, we will never get it back,' Principi said. 'I believe it would be a tragic mistake, a tragic loss to this nation, if this recommendation was to be approved.'" ...
PANEL APPROVES CLOSURE OF WALTER REED HOSPITAL IN WASHINGTON
(Headline in Thursday's print edition: PANEL REJECTS CLOSING OF 2 BIG NAVY BASES IN NORTHEAST)
By David S. Cloud and Christine Hauser
New York Times
August 25, 2005
[PHOTO CAPTION: The Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission, meeting yesterday in a hotel ballroom less than a mile from the Pentagon, endorsed most of the military's recommendations.]
ARLINGTON, Va. -- The independent commission reviewing a Defense Department plan to shut or shrink hundreds of military bases nationwide voted this morning to close the historic Walter Reed Army Medical Center, as it continued its deliberations on the Pentagon's blueprint for changes at more than 800 facilities in 50 states.
The Pentagon plans had called for the closing of the medical center and the construction of a $1 billion national military center with the same name on the campus of the naval medical center in Bethesda, Md., about seven miles from the present Walter Reed.
Panel members noted that the cost of retrofitting the 96-year old medical center would be higher than those of building a new facility. They voted 8 to nothing in support of the Pentagon's recommendation, with one abstention.
Named for Maj. Walter Reed, an Army surgeon who led the researchers who discovered that yellow fever is transmitted by mosquitoes, the center admitted its first patient in 1909, when it could accommodate fewer than 100 patients. Now, the installation has some 5,500 rooms. It has treated presidents, other politicians and thousands of military people, including some recently wounded in Iraq.
The Pentagon's plan to eliminate jobs in Washington and nearby Arlington as part of its blueprint would have a severe impact on the economy and intellectual resources of the region, lawmakers told military officials last month.
Washington is scheduled to lose more than 6,000 jobs, about 5,600 of them with the closing of Walter Reed, where hundreds of thousands of American soldiers have been treated. As a result, Bethesda, another Washington suburb, is expected to gain nearly 2,000 jobs, many of them coming from the medical center. Some personnel and operations would move to a community hospital at Fort Belvoir in Virginia.
The commission resumed deliberations this morning with proposals on training and education facilities, and then it is scheduled to move on to the subject of Air Force bases. Contentious debates are expected today and Friday on plans to close the Air Force installations and shift squadrons around the country.
On Wednesday, the commission voted against closing the oldest American submarine base, in Groton, Conn., and the historic Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Me., its most significant deviations from the Defense Department recommendations. The nine-member group, officially named the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission, endorsed most of the recommendations, however.
The reprieves for the Connecticut and Maine facilities were met with elation in the surrounding communities, which stood to lose more than 10,000 jobs, and in the affected Congressional delegations, which had lobbied fiercely to convince commissioners that the Defense Department was overestimating savings from closing the facilities and underestimating their military value.
"We gave the commission facts," said Representative Rob Simmons, a Connecticut Republican whose district includes the base. "We went from criterion to criterion to criterion and proved them wrong at every point."
The commission's chairman, Anthony J. Principi, said the Pentagon's recommendations on the two installations were overturned because of uncertainty about whether the Navy, which is shrinking, will need to grow in response to China's naval buildup, as well as concern about losing expertise at both places.
"Once you close those two national resources, you cannot recreate them, you cannot reopen them," he said in a brief interview after the commission's daylong proceedings. "I felt it was too much of a risk."
Closing of the New London submarine base in Groton was opposed by former President Jimmy Carter, a former Navy submariner, as well as a dozen retired admirals. It would have resulted in 8,000 civilian and military jobs being lost or moved to Georgia and Virginia, where the Navy planned to shift the base's submarines. Closing the Portsmouth shipyard would have cost New Hampshire and Maine 4,000 jobs, the Pentagon estimated.
Businesses that depend on the bases, including the General Dynamics Corporation's Electric Boat Division, which builds nuclear submarines in Groton, would also have suffered, opponents of the Pentagon plan said.
Together the two installations provided an estimated $2.9 billion of the Pentagon's estimate of nearly $50 billion in savings over the next 20 years. Their proposed closings formed two of the largest money-savers in the Pentagon plan, which got an estimated 80 percent of its savings come from just 10 percent of the recommendations.
In general, the proceedings on Wednesday unfolded with an air of finality as the commission, which is charged with reviewing each of the facilities the Defense Department is proposing to close, contract or give new missions, met in a hotel ballroom less than a mile from the Pentagon. President Bush can make changes in the list before submitting it to Congress for an up or down vote, but neither is expected to overturn the commission's decisions. In four previous rounds of base closings, Congress has never rejected the commission's final list.
Even Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Texas Republican whose state received a blow on Wednesday when the commission voted to close a Navy installation in Ingleside, said Congress was unlikely to reject this year's list. "Because of the way the commission has operated and the fact that they are exercising independent judgment probably would indicate that they will have Congressional support," she said
In communities where the panel backed Pentagon plans, politicians were vowing to fight the decision.
By an 8-to-1 vote on Wednesday, the commission, which is commonly known as BRAC for Base Realignment and Closure, backed the closing of Fort Monmouth, an Army research base in Eatontown, N.J., but called on the Pentagon not to shift research jobs from Fort Monmouth until there were "safeguards" to ensure that research benefiting troops deployed overseas was not affected. Commissioner Philip Coyle said the move could disrupt vital work, including research on devices to protect troops in Iraq from roadside bombs.
After the vote, Representative Frank Pallone Jr., Democrat of New Jersey, declared: "We're not ready to sit back and say they can close Fort Monmouth based on this recommendation today."
Saving the base will be tough. The Defense Department has said its closing would provide the biggest savings for the Army: an estimated $1 billion over the next 20 years. Pentagon officials want to shift much of the fort's work to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, the Army's main weapons testing facility, where it intends to establish a new center for broader research.
Unlike the rounds of base closings, this one is unfolding amid heightened concern about national security and during an expansion in the overall size of the military.
Several commission members indicated they believed that the Pentagon plan would close too many large bases with critical capabilities and highly trained workers that could be needed to support the military presence in Iraq or for unanticipated national security threats.
The Pentagon has estimated that the plan will shift or eliminate more than 26,000 jobs and produce nearly $50 billion in defense budget savings over 20 years. But in explaining the commission's willingness to overturn some of the plan, Mr. Principi said Wednesday that the panel had "serious questions about the department's calculation of the costs and savings of its recommendations."
As the commission worked crisply through the Pentagon list on Wednesday, knots of lobbyists and politicians steadily exited the ballroom, some looking relieved and others disappointed.
Among those in the audience was Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, whose state came away a clear winner. The commission adopted an amendment promoted by Governor Bush that could pave the way for the movement of more than 200 Navy F-18 fighters to Jacksonville from their current base in Virginia Beach.
Governor Bush came out of the room smiling broadly. Virginia Beach's mayor, Meyera Oberndorf, by contrast, looked shaken by the prospect of losing the Navy installation. "Obviously, we have homework to do," she told reporters.
Concerned that the Virginia base is hemmed in by development and that ordinances limit how low the fighters can fly during training, the panel adopted a provision calling on the Defense Department to consider moving to Jacksonville if the Virginia Beach problems were not corrected by next March.
In another reversal for the Pentagon, the panel voted unanimously Wednesday not to close Red River Army Depot in Texas. The commission voted only to move some of its operations elsewhere, reducing job losses substantially from the 2,500 threatened.
Among the functions staying at Red River will be the Army's largest maintenance facility for Humvees and other armored vehicles.
The Army wanted to centralize depot work at a larger site in Alabama, saving an estimated $539 million over the next 20 years. But several commissioners said it did not make sense to close a maintenance facility involved in overhauling vehicles destined for Iraq and Afghanistan.
The commission will also have to decide whether to endorse the closing of Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, another large base. The Air Force is proposing to move the base's B1 bomber squadron to Dyess Air Force Base. But Mr. Principi and other commissioners have said that the savings from this and other moves in which military personnel are merely shifted from one location to another are overstated.
Last fall, Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican leader, appeared outside the base with John Thune, the Republican candidate for Senator, and promised to use his clout to spare Ellsworth if South Dakotans turned Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader, out of office. Mr. Thune won but the base appeared on the list anyway. He is now working overtime trying to spare the base, the state's second-largest employer.
--Christine Hauser in New York contributed reporting to this article.
PENTAGON PLAN TO CUT BASES DERAILED
By John Hendren
** In an unusual rebuke, the military site closure panel votes to keep open two Northeast facilities. **
Los Angeles Times
August 25, 2005
ARLINGTON, Va. -- The commission deciding the future of U.S. military bases voted Wednesday to block the proposed shutdown of two major installations in New England, a major reversal for a Pentagon plan that critics said would have "demilitarized" the Northeast.
The move by the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission came as a dramatic and unusual rebuke of the Bush administration's approach to restructuring the nation's defenses, and it marked the sharpest disagreement between the Pentagon and any review panel in 17 years of military cutbacks that were triggered by the end of the Cold War.
Rejecting the Defense Department's plan to leave New England without a major active-duty military presence, the commission overturned the recommendation to close the Naval Submarine Base New London at Groton, Conn., and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine.
The moves would have affected 13,000 military and civilian employees.
The commission's action followed several months of hearings at which panel members heard appeals from state officials supporting local military bases who disputed Pentagon economic and military projections.
But the decisions made by the base closing commission also highlighted differences between many defense experts and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld over his emphasis on a lighter, faster and more lethal military. In the case of the Connecticut submarine base, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, three former chiefs of naval operations and other retired high-ranking Navy officers opposed the Pentagon's recommendations, said Anthony J. Principi, the chairman of the base closure commission who was the secretary of Veterans Affairs during President Bush's first term.
The reversals were the most prominent in an era of sweeping changes to the Pentagon's blueprint for the nation's future military base structure. The commission also reversed the Pentagon's proposal to close the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Norco and disagreed with other recommendations.
"I think they have shown they are independent," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), who attended the first of several days of the base closure commission's final deliberations.
The Pentagon issued its recommendations for base closures and reorganization in May after the various military branches studied their future needs. Under federal law, the president appoints a nine-member panel in consultation with congressional leaders -- the law requires he consult with Republican and Democratic leaders -- to review the recommendations.
After acting on the Pentagon's recommendations, the commission will give Bush its report Sept. 8. He may forward it to Congress or send it back to the commission, but the final reorganization plan must go to Congress by Nov. 7.
In its first day of formal votes, the commission set aside Rumsfeld's concern that it would be "risky" to make changes to the Pentagon's recommendations. Retired Air Force Gen. Lloyd W. "Fig" Newton, a Connecticut resident, disputed the Defense secretary's findings that the New London submarine base represented excess capacity. Newton called it "a first-class facility," adding, "It's the flagship of the submarine facilities.
"I find it would be a big mistake to close this facility at this particular time," he said.
Principi "strongly" agreed and rejected Pentagon arguments that other submarine bases in Virginia and Georgia provided sufficient space for a force of about 55 fast-attack vessels.
"New London submarine base is more than piers and parking spaces for nuclear-powered submarines," Principi said. "It is truly the center of excellence in submarine warfare."
Principi said the submarine base with surrounding support facilities "would be very, very difficult to replicate at another location."
Both Principi and Newton said emerging threats from Asia required continued naval readiness, apparently referring to China's growing navy.
"If we close New London down, we will never get it back," Principi said. "I believe it would be a tragic mistake, a tragic loss to this nation, if this recommendation was to be approved."
Commissioner Samuel K. Skinner, who served as chief of staff to President George H.W. Bush, criticized Rumsfeld for not presenting panel members with other submarine options, including the possibility of closing one of the other East Coast bases.
"I think the secretary picked the wrong one to eliminate," Skinner said. "It is the center of excellence. It has been the center of excellence. I wish the secretary had chosen another one."
The decisions to save the two New England bases, as expected, drew euphoric praise from Northeastern lawmakers.
"Simply put, the commission did not accept the Navy's contention that there is enough excess capacity," Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) said. "I commend the commission for doing their own analysis of shipyard capacity."
Acting on other California installations, the base closure panel voted to give the Navy until Jan. 1, 2007, to settle on a redevelopment plan for the 14-acre Navy Broadway Complex on the San Diego waterfront, a process that is underway.
That decision was hailed by Rep. Susan A. Davis (D-San Diego) and Deputy Mayor Toni Atkins as a victory for the city, the port district and the Navy. Local officials had worried that the commission would put the complex on the closure list, which could have scuttled the redevelopment plans.
San Diego-area officials were also pleased by the commission's decision to endorse closing Naval Station Ingleside in Texas and relocate 10 ships to San Diego.
"This is what the city and the Navy both wanted. It provides for the continuing redevelopment of San Diego's downtown waterfront, as well as for a new headquarters for the Navy's southwest region," Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said.
Feinstein noted that votes today or Friday could cut other California sites. Commission action is expected on the Naval Postgraduate School and the Defense Language Institute, both in Monterey.
The scope of the alterations and the brisk pace of the commission's work left analysts and lawmakers predicting major changes to the Pentagon's proposed list. Review panels in four previous base-closing rounds have altered an average of about one-sixth of the administration's recommendations; this year's commission may revise one-fourth.
On Wednesday, panel members decided to keep open the Red River Army Depot in Texas, a facility the Pentagon wanted to close, and to close the Brunswick Naval Air Station in Maine, which the Pentagon had planned to keep open with reduced staffing. And they gave Virginia a year to pass laws to halt growth around the Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach or lose the base.
Holding out the possibility that Oceana's work would be shifted to the now-closed Cecil Field in Jacksonville, Fla., Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who attended Wednesday's session, said: "The state and the city of Jacksonville are prepared to make a commitment that this is a viable long-term option. Cecil Field is the optimal master jet base."
There were political overtones to other decisions facing the commissioners. They approved a Pentagon recommendation to close Pascagoula Naval Station in Mississippi, long protected by politicians including Republican Sen. Trent Lott, who has clashed with the White House in recent years.
Also facing the panel this week is a decision on the fate of Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota, which the Pentagon has recommended be shut. Freshman Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) had pledged to protect the base as a key plank in his campaign platform last year en route to unseating Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle.
Pentagon officials declined to comment on specific cuts, but said they expected the commission to make changes.
As the commission began voting at a suburban Washington hotel on the future of more than 800 military facilities around the country, a broad assortment of senators, governors, mayors and lobbyists paced the ballroom, awaiting word on the fate of bases in their states and towns.
Virginia Beach Mayor Meyera Oberndorf sat expressionless, three local television cameras trained on her face, as panelists deplored encroaching development that threatened the viability of Oceana Naval Air Station.
"I'm relieved and happy that the base is not closed," she said afterward. "Obviously we have homework to do."
--Times staff writer Tony Perry in San Diego contributed to this report.