December 2, 1997 in Nation/World

Faster Base Closures Advocated Panel Also Recommends New Approach To Minimize Politics

Los Angeles Times
 

An advisory commission on defense strategy Monday called for swifter closing of unneeded military bases and a new approach to the cuts that could make it more difficult for politically influential states to block such moves.

The National Defense Panel, created by Congress, said the government should consider more than the two rounds of base closures currently foreseen over the next four years.

The panel, organized to assess long-term defense strategy, also proposed that the government create a single “long-term installation master plan” as the basis for shutting and consolidating military facilities.

Under a system in use for the past decade, bases have been considered anew for cuts and elimination each time Congress has set up a new base-closing commission. Some critics have argued that under this system the selections have sometimes been based too much on the immediate needs of the individual military services, rather than the longer-term defense needs of the United States.

And they contend that in putting bases at risk repeatedly, the system creates at least the appearance that the process is fundamentally political.

The panel, while praising the four rounds of closings to date, said its recommendations “would depoliticize the base closure issue to the extent possible, and establish a common reference point for future closure decisions.” Its report said the next round “might be preceded by an independent, comprehensive inventory of all facilities and installations located in the United States.”

By further removing the selections from politics, the process could take away an advantage enjoyed by states with considerable pull.

Philip Odeen, chairman of the panel, argued that creating a single, final list of targeted bases could actually benefit communities by eliminating the disruptive uncertainty and anxiety they have faced.

The panel also recommended that the government speed up the next two rounds of base closings that Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen has recommended. And the report said that if bases are consolidated between services, as has been recommended, there would be an opportunity to eliminate even more overhead through further base closures.

While Congress has stalled base closings in the past two years to spare communities the pain of lost jobs, a wide range of defense experts - including Secretary Cohen - contend that only through such cuts can the Pentagon find the money to fund development of new weapons.

The four previous rounds of base closings have cut installations spending by 21 percent. But the cuts are proportionally far smaller than those in military manpower and the overall defense budget, and analysts contend that huge unneeded overhead remains.

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