After spending seven months reviewing 4,200 military properties, a commission found 86 that could be closed, for savings that amount to one-fifth of a penny on every dollar spent by the Pentagon.
"There was no dollar goal for savings," said Hayden Bryan, the executive director of the 12-member base closings panel, which said its recommendations would save the government $693 million a year, or $5.6 billion in current dollars over two decades.Much of the annual savings will take up to six years to be realized, because of the cost of transferring personnel, cleaning up and disposing of the facilities.
The base closings are expected to be approved by outgoing Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci, and congressional leaders say Congress is not likely to stop them. By law, neither Carlucci nor Congress can reject specific closures without scrapping the whole package of recommendations. Fort Douglas in Salt Lake City was recommended for closure.
Cutting more bases than those recommended would be politically tough and likely would not make much more of a dent in the $300 billion Pentagon budget, Bryan said in a telephone interview last week.
However, the commission report and the chairmen of the House and Senate armed services committees both urged the next defense secretary, former Texas Sen. John Tower, to press for further base closings.
"I would like to have seen more," said Sen. Sam Nunn, the Georgia Democrat who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Rep. Les Aspin, D-Wis., Nunn's counterpart in the House, called the list "too modest" and said it could have been a third again as large.
Aspin said he thought that members of Congress could not be persuaded to go along with another independent commission to order mass base closings for at least another decade.
Instead, he urged the incoming administration of George Bush to use a 1985 law and submit as part of its annual defense budget a list of bases to be closed.
The Reagan administration never made use of the law, said an aide to Aspin. Caspar W. Weinberger, President Reagan's defense secretary until late 1987, submitted several lists of bases to be closed but could not reach an agreement with Congress over procedure or which bases should be included.
"I would hope that the next secretary of defense would take this job very, very seriously . . . there's money to be saved," said Abraham Ribicoff, co-chairman of the commission and a former Democratic senator from Connecticut.
The base closing commission that submitted its report to Congress and the Pentagon on Thursday was appointed by Carlucci on May 3, 1988. He has until Jan. 15, five days before he leaves office, to approve or reject the whole package.
Congress last Oct. 24 passed legislation designed to insulate the commission from the type of political pressure that has prevented the federal government from closing any major bases since 1977. To block the package, both houses must pass resolutions against it. The closings would begin January 1, 1990, and be completed by September 30, 1995.
The government is not likely to repeat the commission's effort, which was designed in part to break a logjam caused by passage of a law in 1977 giving Congress the power to block closure of any base with 300 or more Defense Department civilian employees.
Instead, the commission urged the Pentagon to take a close look at military bases with fewer than 100 employees or those used by reserve units or as military laboratories. The commission did not have the time or the authority to review those facilities, said Bryan, the executive director.
"In the Defense Department, the real savings come through the reduction of personnel," said Bryan. And reducing the number of people in the armed forces, he said, is a matter to be settled by Congress and the administration. The commission recommendations include transfers of personnel from closed facilities to those that will remain in operation. Altogether, 145 facilities would be affected by closure, partial closure or realignment.
"We did not get into force structure," Bryan said.
For the commission, the main guideline for closing a base was whether it served the national security, Ribicoff and panel co-chairman Jack Edwards told reporters.
"And if a base had a military value, then we didn't bother it," said Edwards, a former Republican congressman from Alabama.