WASHINGTON – A federal commission approved a plan Thursday to consolidate the Fort Lewis Army and McChord Air Force bases near Tacoma, following through on a Pentagon recommendation this spring.
The change would put Fort Lewis in charge of administrative functions at McChord and rename the operations Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Some Washington state lawmakers had questioned the plan, which would remove 567 military and civilian jobs at McChord and add 230 workers at Fort Lewis. Most services at McChord’s medical clinic would be relocated to nearby Madigan Army Hospital at Fort Lewis, and 169 clinic personnel would be reassigned.
In a June letter to the Base Closure and Realignment Commission, Democratic Reps. Adam Smith of Tacoma and Norm Dicks of Belfair and Democratic Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell said they had received little information from the Pentagon about how the recommendations for McChord were developed.
They said the proposal could hurt operations at the air base, because of differences in how the two bases are organized.
But in a statement late Thursday, Smith said he was pleased at the final vote, which would give leaders at the two bases greater flexibility in assigning military and civilian workers at the merged base.
“Since this is a new concept, it is difficult to foresee the full implications of the proposal, but the concept has merit and I am encouraged that the commission gave power to the local commanders to have direct input into how the realignment will be implemented,” Smith said. “The joint-base concept has the potential to bolster efficiency and joint operations, which are critical to a modern-day fighting force.”
“While there are still questions about how joint-basing will work, I am relieved that the commission recognizes that, at the very least, it is necessary to have local military cooperation between the two bases,” she said.
The two bases are unusual among U.S. military installations in that they share a common border, the Pentagon noted in recommending the consolidation.
The base-closure panel was expected to vote today on two potentially contentious items for the Northwest: Transferring to other bases 15 F-15 fighter jets and eight KC-135 air tankers based at Portland International Airport with the Oregon Air National Guard; and moving eight KC-135 tankers now with the Washington Guard from Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane.
Two jets from an undetermined base would be sent to Portland to be on alert status, but the nearest permanent fighter base would be in Fresno, Calif., 750 miles away, Air Guard officials say.
The base-closure panel must send its final proposal to President Bush by Sept. 8. The president can accept the report or order the commission to make changes. Then, if Congress does not reject the report in its entirety, it becomes law.