Congressmen want to slow down BRAC process

The Associated Press

New Mexico’s two senators want to halt the base realignment and closure process at least until the Pentagon completes a defense review and most of the major combat units return from deployment in Iraq.
Sens. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., announced Thursday they are sponsoring an amendment to the fiscal 2006 Defense Authorization bill that would halt the closure process and protect Cannon Air Force Base in eastern New Mexico.
The amendment is identical to a stand-alone bill they introduced in May. It would delay the BRAC process until the Pentagon finishes this year’s quadrennial defense review, a review of the nation’s overseas military facilities is completed and substantially all major combat units return from Iraq.
“How can we make informed decisions about what bases to close if we don’t have all the necessary analyses about our future military needs? It defies common sense,” Bingaman said.
Domenici said closing American bases should be a last resort.
“This amendment will delay BRAC until our overseas military situation is clear, ensuring that bases that may be needed in the future are not closed now,” he said.
Cannon, near Clovis, is one of 33 major bases around the country targeted for closure. The Pentagon has estimated it would save $2.7 billion over 20 years by closing Cannon, costing the base’s 2,385 military employees and 384 civilian jobs and about 2,000 more indirect jobs.
The economic impact of the base has been estimated at $200 million a year — about a third of the Clovis economy in a community of about 36,000.
New Mexico’s congressional delegation and state leaders have complained that the Defense Department erred in assessing Cannon’s assets.
The delegation also pointed out Thursday that 80 percent of the projected savings gained by closing Cannon would come through personnel expenses. They said the vast majority of personnel at the base would be moved — not terminated — so the estimated savings is wrong.
“The Pentagon was wildly off base in estimating cost savings associated with closing Cannon,” Bingaman said. “Knowing this, we have good reason to continue questioning the accuracy and legitimacy of the other reasons the Defense Department offered for closing the base.”
Meanwhile, Gov. Bill Richardson took Cannon’s case to BRAC Commissioners Anthony Principi and retired U.S. Air Force Gen. Lloyd W. Newton. He urged them to take the base off the closure list during meetings Thursday in Washington.
“Today’s meetings were cordial and productive, and while I am encouraged by the response from the commission, we still face an uphill battle to keep Cannon,” the governor said. “I have been proud of how New Mexicans have come together to help save Cannon and I’m hopeful we can get it done.”
Richardson has now met with each of the nine commissioners.
It would take five commissioners to remove a base from the list. The commission’s recommendations are due by Sept. 8 to President Bush, who may accept or reject the entire list.