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Base Closure Panel, Rtc, Call It Quits

Two federal agencies - one aimed at downsizing the nation’s military and the other established to sort out the mess from the savings and loan debacle - officially end their missions today.

The Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission, the independent agency created to insulate elected officials from the pain of shutting down excess military capacity left over from the Cold War, closes its doors at 5 p.m.

Reaching its goal on time and on budget, the commission may go down as one of the great bargains of modern government.

The panel closed 243 domestic military installations in four years.

Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., who helped write the legislation creating the commission, said it worked “amazingly well. Not perfect, but to compare it to anything else I’ve seen around here in 25 years.”

“We saved the taxpayers over $5 billion a year for the next four years, and we did it for under $13 million,” said Charles Smith, the last executive director of a commission.

But few were less satisfied in 1995 than President Clinton. Under the legislation that created the commission, either house of Congress could reject its final choices, but only the president could send the commission’s recommendations back for further consideration. No president had dared to do that, but Clinton was sorely tempted this summer when the latest panel defied the Air Force by voting to close a Sacramento maintenance depot.

Throwing 11,000 people out of work was not something the president was eager to do in a state considered crucial to his re-election, especially since earlier base closure rounds already had cost California 80,000 military jobs.

Meanwhile, the biggest financial bailout in U.S. history comes to an end today with the closing of the Resolution Trust Corp., the government agency created six years ago to sort out the debris from the collapse of the savings and loan industry.

The final cost was about $145 billion, according to L. William Seidman, former chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., with RTC’s share totaling about $90 billion. Seidman and others note the true cost actually may be closer to $400 billion if you count 30 years of interest on the money borrowed to finance the cleanup. That’s enough to fund the food stamp program, say, for 15 years.

Still, the bill is less than what some analysts had once feared.


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