Pentagon agrees to release closing data

By Lolita C. Baldor: The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Under fire from Congress, the Defense Department has promised to give lawmakers access by next Tuesday to detailed material backing up its recommendations to shut down about 180 military installations across the country.

Parts of the report are classified, so the Pentagon said lawmakers and staff with security clearances who want to see the classified information must review that data at a secure location in northern Virginia.

The announcement comes in the wake of increasing demands from lawmakers and state and local officials for the release of what will be an unprecedented amount of data in defense of the base closing plan. Lawmakers hope to use the information to persuade the independent commission reviewing the base closings to remove certain installations from the hit list.

Sens. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., and Pete Domenici, R-N.M., were among a group of lawmakers who signed and sent a letter to President Bush on Friday urging release of information associated with the base closure list.

Cannon Air Force in Clovis, N.M., is on the list released by the Pentagon earlier this month of bases it wants to close.

With the first hearing two weeks away, there was unease about how much community officials will be able to see.

“It is of great concern to me that the installation-specific data the Pentagon used to prepare its (base closing) recommendations will not reach the level of transparency that our communities need,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, an Armed Services Committee member.

Phil Grone, the deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment, met with key Congress members Friday to explain why the data release is taking so long, and how lawmakers will be able to review the material.

Grone said the entire database will be available to lawmakers by the end of the workday Tuesday, and by June 4, all unclassified material will be available to the public.

Pentagon spokesman Glenn Flood said the majority of material will be unclassified. He said the amount of data in this round of base closings — the fifth round since 1988 — was 100 times greater than any previous round.

Grone’s announcement comes the same day the base closing commission chairman, Anthony Principi, said the panel can’t do its job unless the material is released promptly.

“It needs to be soon,” he said. “We cannot make informed decisions without the data, and that’s critical to our work.”
Lawmakers and governors also have sent letters to the Pentagon and to President Bush pleading for the material. Congress members have been gathering support for legislation that would delay the base closing process.