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Plan to relocate Air Guard units may be out of BRAC’s purview

Lolita C. Baldor Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon’s broad proposal to shut down or shift Air National Guard units across the country may not be allowed under the ongoing round of military base closings, according to an internal memo obtained by the Associated Press.

The memo, prepared by the general counsel’s office of the independent commission reviewing the base closings, could stymie the Defense Department’s efforts to streamline or eliminate as many as 30 Air Guard flying units from Maine to Texas.

Dated Thursday, the legal opinion said the use of the base closure law to relocate, disband or move Air Guard units from one state to another could be outside the scope of the Base Closure and Realignment Commission. And it said that in some cases the proposals could present legal problems and deviate from the criteria in the base closure law.

Officials reading the memo declared it good news for states that are trying to keep their guard units in place. BRAC officials could not be reached for immediate comment.

“Report of this memo is certainly welcome news to the state of Connecticut,” said Rep. Rob Simmons, R-Conn. “The BRAC Commission is asking the right questions about whether the Pentagon has the legal right to take away planes and equipment from National Guard facilities without the consent of the states.”

The memo backs up complaints made by state officials in several of the BRAC hearings and could bolster a lawsuit filed by the state of Pennsylvania.

“In our conversations with the BRAC Commission, we’ve raised the same concerns about the Air Force’s failure to consult with both the Massachusetts National Guard and the Coast Guard,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass. “We’re confident that the BRAC Commission will correct the errors made in this process to follow the true intent of the BRAC law.”

The memo also notes that the Pentagon already has the authority to reposition aircraft within the Air Force, but any changes in location of Air National Guard aircraft must have the consent of the state’s governor.

State officials have blasted the proposed Air Guard restructuring, saying the Pentagon trod on state’s rights. And they have warned that the shifts could erode homeland security.

Pennsylvania officials filed a lawsuit against the Pentagon over the planned closure of the Willow Grove Naval Air Station, arguing that only the governor has the authority to deactivate the Air National Guard unit.

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