By David Irvin
Dozens of United States military bases are expected to be targeted for closure this year.
Federal officials have predicted as many as 100 of the nation’s roughly 400 bases will be closed.
While state and local officials and federal lawmakers have expressed hope that Cannon Air Force Base will expand as a result of the Base Realignment and Closure process, BRAC’s winners and losers won’t be known until the end of this year. And some military experts have said it’s still not clear exactly what the Department of Defense is looking for in its latest plans for change.
Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M. said the “military value” of an installation is the key to its surviving BRAC.
“The (BRAC) commission is charged with determining the ‘military value’ of an installation partly based on its flexibility to accommodate future missions and the availability of land and airspace,” Domenici said in a written response to questions from Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico.
“Cannon is well positioned to defend both points as its close proximity to large training ranges creates a very favorable environment for high-quality, realistic operational training.”
A special commitment to Cannon over the years has created the kind of military value being sought by the DoD, said Randy Harris, a member of the Committee of Fifty, which works to promote and improve the air base.
“(We) have done everything that could possibly be done for Cannon Air Force Base and for the future needs of the Air Force,” Harris said.
By May, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will submit a list of bases recommended for closure or realignment to nine BRAC Commission members. Those commissioners will evaluate and eventually recommend bases for closure to the president.
President Bush is required by Tuesday to submit the names of Commission members to the Senate for approval. He will be allowed to pick three of the commissioners and designate one as chairman. House and Senate leaders pick the other six, but those are subject to White House approval.
Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said President Bush will nominate former Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi to lead the BRAC commission this round.
Tuesday is important also in that it’s the deadline for Rumsfeld to submit a “force-structure report” to Congress. That report shows current threats, commitment to overseas bases and the force structure of the military.
Over the next two months, the DoD will continue to take suggestions from military commanders and populate a list of bases they believe should be shut down or realigned in accordance with the BRAC process, according to the DoD’s Web site.
That list will be presented to congressional defense committees and the BRAC Commission on or before May 16.
When the list is presented to the Commission, a series of public hearings will take place and commissioners will visit military sites between May and September to determine if Rumsfeld’s recommendations are in accordance with the force structure presented, Udall said.
“Knowing that timetable, this is going to be a very busy year for us on BRAC,” Udall said.
President Bush will receive the final list and recommendations for the BRAC Commission on or before Sept. 23, at which point he will have 15 days to review the list and either reject or accept it. If he accepts the final list as recommended, Congress will then have 45 legislative days to form a joint resolution to shoot it down.
Barring that, the list will become law.
In the case Bush rejects the list, it will go back to the Commission to be revised and presented to the president again by Oct. 20.
The U.S. government started scaling back military bases — citing efficiency and expense — as part of the BRAC process that began in earnest in 1988.
During the last BRAC process in 1995, 27 bases were closed and there were 17 major realignments.
This year’s BRAC round is the fifth since the Kennedy administration.
In the 1960s, the office of the secretary of defense under Robert S. McNamara closed 60 installations without congressional involvement, causing enough economic and political waves for Congress to intervene and propose legislation to guide the process, according to the Web site Globalsecurity.org.
The next round did not occur until 1988.