By David Irvin: Freedom Newspapers
New Mexico’s senators co-sponsored a bill Wednesday intended to stop the Base Realignment and Closure process in its tracks. But before it can be enacted, one of BRAC’s biggest supporters — President Bush — would have to sign it.
The “postponement of 2005 round of defense base closure and realignment act” would prevent any base from being closed before certain criteria are met. Among the criteria is the completion of the Pentagon’s quadrennial defense review in 2006 and the return of all major combat units from the Iraq theater.
The Pentagon released its recommendations for base closures and realignments Friday, and Cannon Air Force Base was one of two major Air Force bases slated for closure. Cannon represents more than 20 percent of the area’s workforce, officials have said.
In a telephone interview Wednesday, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said Bush and the Pentagon are committed to moving ahead with the BRAC process.
“I don’t want to leave the impression that I’m not optimistic about getting this enacted,” he said. “ I think there’s good logic to support this kind of proposal. This is a bill … which would have the effect of postponing the conclusion of this BRAC round until we get better information of what our military needs will be in future years.”
Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., also signed onto the bill, which he said addresses many of the issues being discussed in the initial hearings this week by the BRAC Commission.
“The U.S military today is actively involved in a number of missions around the world, and I think it is prudent to step back and reconsider whether a base closure exercise is the wisest move at this point,” Domenici said in a press release.
Just this week Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned the BRAC Commission that taking a selective look at the recommended list and removing bases from it could have widespread implications on entire sections of the U.S. defense network.
Bingaman said Rumsfeld’s statements are unfounded.
“I think his statement is flawed reasoning,” the senator said. “Congress established this BRAC Commission as a check on what the military might recommend; as an independent review” of the BRAC list. He added Cannon could be removed from the list without another base being put in its place.
Both senators say they have vigorously opposed this BRAC round. Joined by Rep. Tom Udall, D-N.M., they told three BRAC commissioners Wednesday that Cannon’s appearance on the BRAC list a result of “flawed reasoning.”
“I am heartened by the commissioners’ overall receptiveness to considering new information on Cannon. Getting Cannon off the list will still be a challenge, but it is not impossible in my eyes,” Domenici said in a press release.
Udall spoke directly to the issue of flawed reasoning.
“There were gross errors in judgment made in listing Cannon for closure,” Udall said in a press release. “Our meeting was designed to help the BRAC commission understand not only the value and strength of Cannon, but also the weaknesses in the Pentagon’s arguments.”
Those weaknesses, according to the delegates, arose when the Pentagon did not consider the pending approval of the New Mexico Training Range Initiative, which would give the Air Force “unfettered” access to airspace for supersonic training.
“I think that’s a very large factor that the Air Force didn’t consider, and was told not to consider,” Bingaman said.
Other areas being stressed by the delegates are joint training opportunities and the potential economic impact on the Clovis and Portales communities.
“The likely economic impact on the Clovis region is so disproportional to anything else on the BRAC list, the commission has a very important responsibility to be sure the Defense Department’s recommendation on Cannon is credible,” Domenici said.
Cannon’s economic impact has been estimated at about $200 million per year, and between 20 and 25 percent of the area workforce.
Local officials say they will fight hard over the next months to remove the base from the list, using money pledged from county, city and independent organizations to lobby in Washington.
The Clovis/Curry County Chamber of Commerce adopted a resolution in support of the “Keep Cannon” initiative Wednesday, encouraging area residents to aggressively write letters, e-mails and other communications for the continued existence of Cannon.
The 2005 BRAC commissioners are:
l Commission Chairman Anthony J. Principi, former secretary of veterans affairs.
l Former Nevada Rep. James H. Bilbray.
l Philip Coyle of California, a senior adviser to the Center for Defense Information.
l Retired Navy Adm. Harold W. Gehman Jr.
l Former Utah Rep. James V. Hansen
l Retired Army Gen. James T. Hill
l Retired Air Force Gen. Lloyd “Fig” Newton
l Samuel Knox Skinner, who served as President George H.W. Bush’s chief of staff and as secretary of transportation.
l Retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Sue Ellen Turner
Source: Department of Defense
To contact the commission:
2521 S. Clark St.
Arlington, VA 22002
Phone: (703) 699-2952 Online: http://www.defenselink.mil/brac