SALT LAKE CITY — State officials are preparing to defend Hill Air Force Base from another possible round of military base closures.
"I just want to make sure when they go through the process, that it is fair," Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last week called for two Base Realignment and Closures Commission rounds as part of a plan to cut $487 billion from the defense budget. Members of Congress have expressed opposition to the proposal.
Herbert said he wants Hill to be judged on data and facts, rather than "some political maneuver."
"You can see the disadvantage a red state like Utah might have with a Democratic administration," he said. "Someone is going to have to advocate for Utah and for Hill Air Force Base."
The Utah Defense Alliance was created for that purpose about 20 years ago. State lawmakers will consider giving the nonprofit organization $500,000 to champion Hill and its tenants such as the Ogden Air Logistics Center. Herbert supports the idea.
"Anytime they announce BRAC and start down that process, they'll say all bases are fair game," said Tage Flint, UDA president. "That's always a scary proposition."
The alliance is composed of northern Utah community leaders who work on their own time to help the state's military installations stay viable and healthy for as long as possible. It was formed during base closures in the early 1990s, which Hill survived but the Army's Ogden Defense Tooele depots did not, and has evolved to promote investment and jobs in the state's defense industry. Flint, executive director of the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District, has served as UDA president for about 18 months.
Other than a few thousand dollars for economic development projects, the state has not regularly provided money to UDA, he said. If the state allocates the $500,000, he said it would be used to testify before BRAC and create written materials promoting Hill.
"Our job is to make sure we don't take a disproportionate hit to the base," Flint said. "It's mostly educational. We make sure all involved are educated on the value of the base."
Kevin Sullivan, a retired major general and former commander of the Ogden Air Logistics Center, said talk of BRAC should be taken seriously, although he doesn't think Congress would authorize the commission, if it does at all, for three or four years.
"It seems unlikely to me that you would have a BRAC round anytime before an election," he said. "I don't think this is a this-year threat. I guess I'd be surprised if it's a next-year threat."
But given the federal budget situation, defense infrastructure has to be cut at some point, Sullivan said.
The Air Force last November announced civilian job cuts and structural realignments at a number of bases by the end of 2012 as part of $400 billion budget reduction across the Defense Department. Hill expects to trim about 261 jobs by the end of the year, many through hiring restrictions, normal attrition and voluntary early retirements.
One of Utah's largest employers, Hill accounts for 23,000 military and civilian jobs.
The base fared well the last time BRAC, an independent panel of nine commissioners, recommended cuts in 2005, when two of the nation's five air logistics centers were eliminated. The Ogden Air Logistics Center doesn't appear in danger this time around, Flint said.
"We've been told three is really optimum for the Air Force," he said.
Herbert said BRAC should consider what's in the best interest of national defense, the Air Force and taxpayers when looking at Hill.
"If we use that as a basis for the decision, I think you'll find we stack up very well in comparison to most bases," he said.