After tamping out a congressional attempt to delay military base closings, the Pentagon was faced Thursday with two more brush fires fanned by critics across the country.
A long-shot House effort Wednesday evening to postpone the just-begun round of closings for at least a year was easily killed in a 316 to 112 vote.
The measure, shepherded by Rep. Jeb Bradley, R-N.H., is likely to constitute the last Capitol Hill attempt to delay the process.
“The horse is out of the stable at this point, and we have to move ahead with the process,” said House Armed Service Chairman Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., urging the House to kill Bradley’s amendment.
But by Thursday morning, another simmering front flared as lawmakers across the country protested that the Pentagon is holding back information showing how officials came to recommend the closing of 33 major bases and hundreds of other military facilities.
At issue: the background data and calculations used by Defense Department to decide which bases to recommend for closing.
State and Capitol Hill legislators in Alabama, Connecticut, Maine, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico and other states with bases in peril have protested that the Pentagon has not supplied them with anything but summaries of the supporting documentation.
Governors from 14 states dispatched a letter to President Bush Thursday, asking for a delay in the process until the missing information _ which they say is essential for evaluating and challenging the Defense Department’s conclusions _ is released and carefully reviewed.
Particularly infuriating to state leaders is that members of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission _ which will decide by September whether to accept or reject the Pentagon’s recommendations _ have already begun visits to targeted facilities, leaving their defenders there without crucial ammunition to rebut Pentagon arguments. Next week alone, commission members are traveling to eight installations in five states.
“All parties involved deserve adequate time to review how their bases were evaluated, to prepare for regional hearings … and to develop informed challenges to the recommendations,” a letter from New Mexico’s Capitol Hill delegation to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said this week.
Pentagon spokesman Glenn Flood said more data will be forthcoming after a review to make sure no classified information is included in the public release of the documents.
Another front drawing increasing fire is the Pentagon’s recommendation to close hundreds of Army and Air Force reserve and National Guard centers in scores of states.
On Thursday, the National Guard Association of the United States blasted the Pentagon’s decision, which the group said would “effectively ground one-third of the Air National Guard’s flying units, many of which have made significant contributions to the global war on terror.”
Commission members have already signaled their own concerns about the sweeping Guard and reserve changes. At their first public hearing May 16, Commissioner James Bilbray, a former Nevada congressman, and panel Chairman Anthony Principi both warned that the shutdowns and moves could lead to problems in recruiting and retaining reservists.
But Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, downplayed that possibility, saying plans to consolidate training facilities would actually result in better prepared part-time warriors.
“No doubt there will be some inconvenience for somebody who used to drill a couple of miles away and who may have to drive father,” Myers told the panel. “But we think the training will be better.”
(E-mail Lisa Hoffman at HoffmanL(at)shns.com and James W. Brosnan at BrosnanJ(at)shns.com.)