Congress won’t let Panetta close bases as part of cuts

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY ROWAN SCARBOROUGH

Congress is poised to de­liver a de­feat to the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion on one of its main de­fense poli­cies in the new bud­get - base clos­ings.

Both the House and Se­nate Armed Ser­vices com­mit­tees have pro­duced fis­cal 2013 spend­ing bills that deny De­fense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panetta’s re­quest to set up a Base Re­align­ment and Clo­sure Com­mis­sion (BRAC) next year, the sixth since 1988.

Some in de­fense cir­cles say it is the re­sult of elec­tion-year pol­i­tics and mem­bers of Congress will re­al­ize next year that they need to heed top Pen­tagon of­fi­cials who have tes­ti­fied that they have too much in­fras­truc­ture and not enough money.

“It is elec­tion-year pos­tur­ing,” said an aerospace ex­ec­u­tive who mon­i­tors BRAC.

Oth­ers are not so sure, say­ing base clos­ings would put thou­sands of peo­ple out of work in a tepid job mar­ket.

“I do not think the ap­petite will go up post­elec­tion,” said Steven P. Bucci, a Her­itage Foun­da­tion mil­i­tary an­a­lyst who served as a se­nior Pen­tagon of­fi­cial in the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“Congress has never shown any ap­petite for any BRAC be­cause they, Congress, are by de­sign taken out of the process,” he said.

“A BRAC com­mis­sion does the re­search, makes the rec­om­men­da­tions for clo­sures, and then ev­ery­one has to ba­si­cally ‘eat’ the re­sults. I sound harsh, but Congress sees the pro­tec­tion of jobs and in­stal­la­tions in their dis­tricts and states to be their duty,” Mr. Bucci said.

With BRAC, Congress stays mostly on the side­lines. It can lobby the com­mis­sion, but the com­mis­sion’s clo­sure list can be ac­cepted or re­jected only in full.

The Repub­li­can-led House al­ready has passed the no-BRAC bill crafted by its Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee, and the Demo­crat-led Se­nate panel has ap­proved unan­i­mously its de­fense bill omit­ting base clo­sures.

A con­fer­ence com­mit­tee to rec­on­cile the bills will have no pro-BRAC mem­bers, thus de­lay­ing the base-clos­ing process for at least a year.

Mr. Panetta has said he needs to close bases and small in­stal­la­tions to help him achieve $487 bil­lion in con­gres­sion­ally man­dated spend­ing cuts over the next 10 years.

The fi­nal de­fense spend­ing bill not only will deny a new BRAC but also likely will in­clude lan­guage that pro­hibits the mil­i­tary from tak­ing uni­lat­eral ac­tion to close small fa­cil­i­ties with­out prior White House no­ti­fi­ca­tion to Congress.

A Pen­tagon spokes­woman de­clined to comment when asked what op­tions re­main, say­ing the leg­isla­tive process is not com­plete.

To meet bud­get-cut­ting de­mands, Mr. Panetta is slash­ing Marine Corps and Army troops by 90,000, while the Navy and Air Force are trim­ming man­power on a smaller scale.

The Air Force has pro­vided a snap­shot of how to re­duce operating costs with­out nec­es­sar­ily shut­ter­ing build­ings. It an­nounced in March a se­ries of unit de­ac­ti­va­tions, such as a 600troop com­mu­ni­ca­tions unit known as the Third Herd at Tinker Air Force Base in Ok­la­homa.

The Air Force is tar­get­ing big and small, even reach­ing down to de­ac­ti­vate bands, such as the Band of Lib­erty at Han­scom Air Force Base in Mas­sachusetts.

The over­all plan is to re­duce man­power by 3,900 ac­tive air­men, 5,100 Air Na­tional Guards­men and 900 re­servists.

Some de­fense sources say the Air Force has an ex­cess of train­ing cen­ters and bases for bombers and cargo planes.

Re­tired Gen. T. Michael Mose­ley, former Air Force chief of staff, said it would be a mis­take to close cen­ters where pi­lots learn to fly su­per­sonic jet fight­ers and long-range bombers.

“One thing that is a given for the United States Air Force is: Al­ways train pi­lots. Al­ways,” said Gen. Mose­ley, a former fighter pi­lot. “Never ever, ever miss a chance to keep the num­bers ro­bust and the train­ing base­line ro­bust. You can al­ways take a pi­lot and use them some­where else. You can­not go the other way.”

He drew a dis­tinc­tion be­tween the in­vest­ment in a pi­lot and in a sol­dier.

“By the time you get this guy or gal into a squadron, you’ve al­ready got be­tween six and seven years tied up in this kid,” he said. “You can cre­ate an Army ri­fle­man or a Marine ri­fle­man inside a year. You can’t cre­ate a pi­lot of a high-per­for­mance air­plane inside that time pe­riod I out­lined.”

Gen. Mose­ley, who ran the air cam­paign in the 2003 in­va­sion of Iraq to oust Sad­dam Hus­sein, said that while base clo­sures need to be stud­ied, so do the sizes of the Army and Marine Corps, what is called end strength.

Gen. Mose­ley, like sev­eral other re­tired fighter jocks, is up­set that the Pen­tagon ended pro­cure­ment of the F-22 Rap­tor stealth fighter short of what Air Force com­man­ders said was needed.

“We’re out of Iraq,” he said. “We’re go­ing to come out of Afghanistan. Isn’t it time to look at some of the strate­gic throwweights, the things that ac­tu­ally de­ter and dis­suade and per­suade? Wouldn’t that be some­thing that looks like Navy and Air Force in­vest­ment?”

The Pen­tagon pub­lishes an annual re­port on the real es­tate it man­ages around the world.

Re­fer­ring to the Pen­tagon’s “vast port­fo­lio,” the re­port says it op­er­ates 542,000 fa­cil­i­ties at 5,000 sites on more than 28 mil­lion acres.

In the U.S., the Pen­tagon op­er­ates 4,127 sites, in­clud­ing a re­serve train­ing cen­ter, an am­mu­ni­tion de­pot and a sprawl­ing Army base. Each site would be re­viewed by the mil­i­tary if Congress were to ap­prove a base clo­sure com­mis­sion.

Af­ter the last BRAC as­sess­ment, seven years ago, the com­mis­sion closed 185 sites and re­aligned 135.

Her­itage’s Mr. Bucci said “it is near im­pos­si­ble” for the Pen­tagon to close a base uni­lat­er­ally.

The pres­i­dent has the au­thor­ity to do so, but law­mak­ers have set up speed bumps that re­quire the Pen­tagon to first no­tify Congress if a site em­ploys a cer­tain num­ber of work­ers.

Choos­ing to close one base over an­other could spark a civil war on Capi­tol Hill, as well as moves to block clo­sure by craft­ing leg­is­la­tion to deny needed funds.

With­out a BRAC, pend­ing au­to­matic de­fense spend­ing cuts of more than $500 bil­lion, set to be­gin in Jan­uary, be­come even more dam­ag­ing, Mr. Bucci said.

“If you can­not close in­stal­la­tions, the only way to make those dra­co­nian cuts is to elim­i­nate peo­ple and mod­ern­iza­tion pro­grams,” he said. “This too will kill jobs, both in the mil­i­tary and in any as­so­ci­ated busi­nesses.”

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