The Pentagon recommended Friday closing 33 major military bases in the United States in addition to another 150 or so smaller military installations. The Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) will save the Department of Defense just under $49 billion over the next 20 years and could mean the loss of 29,000 military and civilian jobs.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has recommended a series of base closings and restructurings that combined with overseas base realignments are expected to save the United States $64 billion. In 2005 the Defense Department's budget topped $400 billion.
According to Mr. Rumsfeld, while cost savings are important, the base closings are primarily designed to move the U.S. military into the 21st century.
"Today the Department of Defense again is in need of change and adjustment. Current arrangements pretty much designed for the Cold War must give way to the new demands of war against extremists and other evolving 21st century challenges," said Mr. Rumsfeld.
The base closings were done in conjunction with a global posture review. Last year the Pentagon announced that up to 70,000 troops in Europe and Asia are to be re-deployed.
Because of this redeployment, Friday's announcement had fewer closings than initially anticipated, in part because of the return of tens of thousands of troops from overseas, but also due to decisions to reduce leased office space by moving activities to owned facilities.
Mr. Rumsfeld said the proposed closures and realignments also take into consideration how the various military services can better work together.
"The military recognizes that operating jointly reduces overhead costs, improves efficiencies; and facilitates cooperative training, research and operations," he said.
As part of an effort to eliminate redundancies and enhance cross-service cooperation, Mike Wynne, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, said the Pentagon is proposing a joint integrated transportation school and pilot training school.
"One of the major commitments that the services have all made is for a joint strike fighter initial pilot training base and they're going to have that all at one location, which is a remarkable change from history where we may have had the same model airplane but they're all taught at different places," he added.
The BRAC also targets a number of reserve and guard units and recruiting centers. Forty percent of American troops currently serving in Iraq are from these part-time units. General Steven Blum, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, said the restructuring should help with guard and reserve recruiting.
"The demographics that once supported those installations have migrated and moved to new and different places. By closing and divesting ourselves of inefficient facilities and moving to places where we have better demographics and constructing joint facilities I think we give better opportunity to members of the Reserve component and make it more convenient and give them more choices as to how they want to serve the Department of Defense," said Mr. Blum.
Base closings are a very sensitive political subject for elected lawmakers because they affect jobs and communities in the politicians' home districts and state. As such, reaction to the announcement from U.S. lawmakers was swift and sharp.
Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, whose home state of Maine stands to lose some seven thousand civilian and military jobs under the restructuring, called the Pentagon's decision "stunning and devastating."
"It is a seriously unwarranted blow and it flies in the face of reason, logic, facts, strategic value, and it certainly is a blunder of epic proportions and it's nothing short of a travesty," said Ms. Snowe.
Democratic Senator Pete Domenici, whose home state of New Mexico is threatened by the loss of Cannon Air Force Base, vowed to fight the recommendation.
"It's a disappointing day but the fight isn't over,” he explained. “The next effort will be to find out what they based this decision on and to gather our facts. We think they made some basic mistakes and what we have to do is convince the BRAC commission, at least five of them, that they made some mistakes in their analysis and that this base should not be closed."
If lawmakers can sway five of the 10 members on the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission to override the Pentagon recommendations they can save their base or military installation.
The Commission has received a copy of the report and will begin to take testimony from interested parties next week. Their investigation will continue through the summer and they are expected to send their recommendations to President Bush in September.
The President will then review it and send it on to Congress. At that point the only way to overturn the base closings would be for both houses of Congress to vote against it. If they cannot muster the votes, the BRAC becomes law and closures and restructuring would occur over six years starting in 2006.