Pentagon may be creative in condensing bases

STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon will take a creative approach to shrinking its military base structure, but has not yet set targets for the number of bases to be closed, a senior official said.
Larry Di Rita, chief spokesman for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, said the secretary has not instructed his staff to reduce the base structure by any specific percentage, although Rumsfeld often has said studies show a 20 percent to 25 percent surplus of base capacity.
New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson told the Albuquerque Journal in a story published Wednesday that he’s concerned about the prospect of base closures.
New Mexico is home to Cannon Air Force Base near Clovis, Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo, Kirtland Air Force Base at Albuquerque and White Sands Missile Range between Alamogordo and Las Cruces.
Ted Hartley, a member of the Washington Committee of the Clovis/Curry County Chamber of Commerce’s Committee of Fifty, said he and several other Washington Committee members recently returned from a trip to Washington, D.C., and Langley Air Force Base, Va., headquarters for Air Combat Command.
“Doc Stewart, Randy Harris, Chad Lydick and I had extensive interviews at the Pentagon with Joint Chief of Staff Dick Myers as well as Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John P. Jumper, and we feel Cannon — for several reasons — continues to be invaluable for national defense,” Hartley said. “We also visited all five of our congressional delegates, and their view is like ours — very positive. Cannon is poised very favorably for the upcoming (round of base closures).”
Richardson said he wants to make sure the state has a plan “that shows the Department of Defense that our bases are so valuable in other respects — economic development, other functions — that it will be impossible to reject any of our bases.”
Di Rita disputed a news report Tuesday that Rumsfeld plans to close at least 100 bases.
“Nobody’s looking at numbers of bases,” he said. “We’re looking at capacity, and there are a lot of different ways you can achieve capacity reductions,” other than outright closures.
“Experts in and out of government have assessed some range of 20 to 25 percent excess capacity — which doesn’t necessarily, and shouldn’t” mean that any particular percentage of bases will be closed, he said.
Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said it was counterproductive to speculate on what might close. In a news release, he cited ongoing streamlining efforts in the military and said New Mexico’s military installations stand to do well.
And Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said operations in Afghanistan and Iraq make base closing estimates premature.
Di Rita said there are ways to reduce the total base capacity other than closing bases. Some bases might be reduced in size or consolidated; others might be mothballed — but not closed — so they could be available if needed in the future, he said.
“We’re going to try to be as creative as we possibly can” in achieving the main goal of reducing or eliminating the surplus of base capacity, which is a drain on Pentagon finances, he said.
Under legislation passed last year, the Pentagon is required to present by May 2005 a list of bases it recommends for closure or realignment. The process is fraught with political peril because members of Congress traditionally fight hard to spare their states and communities the economic disruption that can be caused by base closures.
CNJ senior writer Gary Mitchell contributed to this report.