WASHINGTON – Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld indicated Tuesday that this year’s round of military base closings may not be as drastic as earlier forecasts suggested, but stressed that closing down installations is “a good thing” that saves taxpayer money.
Only weeks away from a Pentagon proposal for shutdowns, Rumsfeld said that less than 20 percent of base facilities in the United States were likely to be mothballed this year. That prediction contrasted with a Pentagon report to Congress earlier this year that said 24 percent of domestic bases were not needed.
Rumsfeld said the transfer of thousands of U.S. troops from bases around the world will reduce the impact on U.S. facilities.
“The fact that we’re bringing so many forces home from overseas reduces that number,” Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon.
Rumsfeld had earlier repeatedly cited a Clinton administration estimate that 20 percent to 25 percent of the capacity of more than 400 U.S. bases should be cut, but said Tuesday that the eventual number “will be less than the lower end of that range – how much less remains to be seen.”
Because it is such a politically volatile process nationwide, Congress set up a complex procedure by which the Pentagon must submit its recommendations by May 16 to the presidentially appointed Base Realignment and Closure Commission. After the commission devises its own recommendations, it reports to the president in September. Bush can either approve the list, or send it back to the commission, which must resubmit it in October. In November, the base closings are submitted to Congress.
Both the president and Congress must approve or disapprove the recommendations in their entirety.
Bush named the base closing commission March 15.
In March 2004, Pentagon officials told Congress that 24 percent of the nation’s base structure was “excess,” accounting for $7 billion in annual costs. Even reduced, the estimated cuts will be significant, analysts said.
“I would still draw from his comments the inference that this is going to be by far the biggest round of base closures ever attempted,” said Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va., public policy group.