Bush approves domestic base-closure plan


Sep. 15, 2005 -

President George W. Bush on Thursday approved an independent panel's recommendations for an ambitious round of domestic base closures aimed at making the U.S. armed forces leaner and saving the Pentagon an estimated $37 billion over 20 years.

Bush accepted the recommendations contained in a report by the Base Closure and Realignment Commission to close 22 major U.S. military bases after a requirement that he either reject it or sign off on it in full.

Congress is not permitted to make changes to the final report. The recommendations will go into effect in 45 days unless Congress rejects them in full.

The panel, made up of a retired admiral, generals, congressmen and other former government officials, approved most of an original base closure plan by the Pentagon but made several significant changes. That plan, given to the panel in May by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, had called for closing 33 major bases.

The commission decided to save Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City, South Dakota, and the Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, Connecticut, among other changes.

The commission held a series of open, televised deliberations on the Pentagon closure list and then sent its recommendations to Bush.

Rumsfeld said the Pentagon's original base cutback plan represented a unique opportunity in the next 25 years to reshape the U.S. military for new missions and prepare it for the return of some 70,000 troops from Europe and elsewhere.

The commission estimated its changes would result in $37 billion in savings over 20 years for the Defense Department, compared with nearly $50 billion claimed in the original Pentagon plan unveiled in May.

Commission Chairman Anthony Principi, former Veterans Affairs Secretary and a Vietnam veteran himself, also questioned the wisdom of plans to eliminate virtually all of the military's remaining presence in New England.

Pentagon officials have said that while they disagreed with some of the changes made by the commission, they recognized that the panel backed the lion's share of Rumsfeld's recommendations.

(Additional reporting by Charles Aldinger and Will Dunham)