The announcement Thursday that Fort Douglas is on a list of 86 military installations to be closed was hardly a surprise. The venerable fort's name had been mentioned for months as a likely candidate. All Utah can honorably do is take its cost-cutting medicine along with other states. The cry, "Cut anywhere but here," is not acceptable.
Actually, there is no reason to get all upset about the news - the economic impact will be small, a net loss of about 185 jobs.Every loss of jobs hurts, of course, but the news is not all bad. The University of Utah could be a major beneficiary of the closing. Gov. Norm Bangerter and members of the Utah congressional delegation already have said they will seek to transfer the fort's 119 acres and 44 buildings to the adjacent university.
Hardest hit by the shutdown of bigger bases will be California and Illinois. With five bases on the list, California will lose 13,500 military positions and 6,800 civilian jobs. Illinois will lose 3,450 military jobs and 2,716 civilian ones.
Some members of Congress complain that the Air Force, which was the most cooperative with the commission, was hit the hardest, while the Navy, which refused to cooperate, came away relatively unscathed. If those charges are accurate, the Navy should get special attention, the sooner the better.
Undoubtedly, there will be cries of pain and anguish in states affected, and some members of Congress may try to exert influence to rescue their favorite installations. But that will hardly succeed under the rules Congress itself set up for the sensitive base-closing issue.
Those rules require an all-or-nothing approach. The hit list must be accepted or rejected in its entirety by the secretary of defense and then the Congress. No tinkering with individual items is allowed.
Such an approach was deliberately designed to take the political heat off Congress. Otherwise, the stalemate over base closing - none have been shut down in more than 10 years - would continue. Leaders in the House and Senate indicate the package will pass, despite unhappiness by some members.
One disappointment in the whole exercise is the relatively small amount of money saved. Estimates are that savings will run about $690 million a year to start, totaling $5.6 billion over 20 years. That's a far cry from the $5 billion a year originally claimed for base closings.
This should not be the end of the review process. The Pentagon has 3,800 military installations and they should be examined every few years with an eye to closing the obsolete or ineffective places.
As far as those communities hit by the shutdown of military facilities, it doesn't mean the end of the world. In fact, with good planning, the closing of a military base can be a blessing in disguise.
Many places, hit with devastating job losses in the closure of bases, have bounced back with more jobs than ever before, and would not return to the earlier days if they could.
The secret is long-term planning by state and local communities to diversify, according to a national coalition of business executives. That's a message that Utah - heavily dependent on defense spending - should take to heart.
The state came away with only minor damage this time, but there are military facilities and defense industries in Utah that may come in for review again, particularly if defense spending slackens as expected.