An advisory commission blasted the Pentagon Thursday for putting the caisson before the horse in its plan to shut military bases in Europe and South Korea.
The Overseas Basing Commission, a group convened to evaluate the sweeping realignment of U.S. installations globally, criticized the timing, coordination and cost projections of Pentagon plans to close about 200 overseas facilities and bring home 70,000 American troops and 100,000 family members and private contractors over the next decade.
“The sequencing and pace of the proposed realignments could . . . significantly impact both the military’s ability to protect national interests and the quality of life of the servicemen and women affected by the realignment,” the 262-page commission report concluded.
In a series of hearings and briefings in recent months, the Pentagon has defended its plans for change as carefully studied, broadly reviewed, cost-effective and fundamental to national security.
The military has yet to reveal in detail where it intends to move the troops in question _ which would include the Army’s 1st Armored and 1st Infantry divisions, now in Germany, as well as at least 10,000 troops in South Korea and elsewhere in Asia.
The report comes as communities across the country brace for next week’s unveiling of the Pentagon’s proposed hit list of domestic military bases to be shut or reconfigured. While dismantling stateside bases requires the approval of Congress, the Pentagon needs no such permission to close any of the approximately 860 installations in at least 45 other countries around the world.
The review panel, established after some on Capitol Hill complained the Pentagon was embarking on such a massive restructuring with little outside oversight, held several hearings and made a series of site visits.
Though it criticized the Pentagon for moving too fast in deciding which overseas bases to close without making sure there are adequate schools, medical facilities and other infrastructure domestically to accommodate returning troops, the panel had no objection to the stateside installation closings moving “forward as scheduled.”
Among its criticisms, the panel said:
- The Pentagon is low-balling when it pegs the cost of closing overseas bases and relocating the troops at no more than $12 billion. An independent analysis commissioned by the panel put the price tag at closer to $20 billion.
- The swift pace of returning the thousands of troops and family members could substantially hurt their quality of life, and cause communities to be overwhelmed by new demands for services.
- The military is pulling out of Europe too fast, and could leave itself out on a limb if trouble spots on the continent, such as Bosnia and Kosovo, reignite.
The overseas shifts, which the Pentagon says won’t begin until next year, come as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld presides over a wholesale transfiguration of America’s military.
The changes, which would be the most fundamental in decades, are being spurred by a host of factors: the end of the Cold War; the enormous costs of maintaining overseas bases and providing schooling and other services for families; shrinking amount of open space for training; growing complaints in some nations about the presence or behavior of U.S. troops; and the war on terror’s shift of hot spots to the Middle East, Central Asia, Persian Gulf and elsewhere in Asia.
Equally radical is the transformation of the U.S. military into what Rumsfeld calls an “expeditionary” force that is leaner and quicker to deploy than the more ponderous Cold War force.
The panel said it embraces Rumsfeld’s vision in general, but calls on him to proceed at a more measured pace.
“The commission fully understands the need for transformation and lauds the insight and vision behind the many different initiatives,” the report said. But the panel has “concluded that we are doing too much too fast and a reordering of the steps is necessary.”
(E-mail Lisa Hoffman at HoffmanL(at)shns.com.)