RUMSFELD

From coast to coast, towns and cities near military posts are nervously awaiting May 16. That’s the deadline for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to recommend which U.S. installations should be shut in the first round of base closures in a decade. Rumsfeld’s roster won’t be the last word, but whichever posts are shuttered, hundreds of millions of dollars of construction are likely to follow, if past closure rounds are any guide. Work will include environmental cleanup at closed bases plus new facilities at still-open posts to which personnel from shuttered installations will be transferred.

BBase Closure Timetable
• May 16—Defense Secretary Rumsfeld
recommends bases to be closed or realigned.
• Sept. 8—After reviewing Rumsfeld’s list,
independent base closure commission
issues its recommendations.
• Sept. 23—President Bush approves or
disapproves commission's list.
• Later this fall—If Bush approves com-mission’s list, recommendations become binding unless Congress disapproves entire list within 45 legislative days of Sept. 23.
SOURCE: Dept. of Defense

"We along with many other companies have been tracking this for quite a while," says an industry source. "We think there’ll be a lot of realignment activities at what some people call ‘gaining bases."

What worries Capitol Hill is the prospect of losing bases. "This is a classic ‘all politics are local’ issue, especially in the House," says Rep. James Walsh (R-N.Y.), military quality of life and Veterans Affairs appropriations subcommittee chairman. "So, yes, there’s a lot of angst."

At an April 7 hearing of Walsh’s panel, Dept. of Defense witnesses didn’t hint at which locations might be in danger. A March 2004 DOD report pegged its excess infrastructure capacity at 24% of its asset replacement value. But on March 29, Rumsfeld said past studies, which estimated excess capacity in the 20 to 25% range, predate the Bush administration. He said that "the fact that we’re bringing so many forces home from overseas reduces that number." Rumsfeld added that "it looks now like the actual number will be less than the lower end of that range; how much remains to be seen."

In the four previous rounds–1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995–97 major installations were shut. DOD said those rounds produced a $17-billion net saving through fiscal 2001 plus an annual recurring saving of approximately $7 billion.

DOD says some closed posts have been converted to other uses. The 2004 report cites three military air bases that are now commercial airfields. Other locations have become sites for industry or schools. But David Nash, president of BE&K Government Group, Birmingham, Ala., says some conversions took longer than expected, which increased security and maintenance costs. Nash, a retired admiral and former head of the Naval Facilities Engineering Command, thinks that this time DOD will "look for early turnover" of its installations, to get the locations onto the tax rolls.

Corps: Senate Panel Weighing New Water Resources Bill
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee planned an April 13 vote on a measure that would authorize new locks on the upper Mississippi and Illinois rivers as well as a batch of other Corps of Engineers projects.

The bill, introduced April 6 by Christopher Bond (R-Mo.), has $1.8 billion for seven new Mississippi and Illinois locks, $235 million for other navigation items and $1.6 billion for environmental projects in that region. The measure also provides more than $2.6 billion for 35 other Corps projects.

Critics object to the "upper Miss" locks and project-review provisions. Steve Ellis, Taxpayers for Common Sense vice president, slams the oversight sections as "nothing more than a kangaroo court of independent review."

EPA: Path Clears for Nominee Johnson
Stephen Johnson, President Bush’s pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, has cleared a hurdle in his quest for Senate confirmation. At Johnson’s April 6 hearing before the Environment and Public Works committee, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) vowed to block his nomination unless he canceled an EPA program to study infants’ exposure to home pesticides. Two days later, Johnson announced he had halted the program. A Boxer aide says the senator no longer plans to hold up Johnson’s nomination on the floor.

The environment committee was slated to take up Johnson’s nomination on April 13. If the panel approves him, floor action would follow. Johnson, a 24-year EPA official, has been its acting chief since January. If confirmed, he would be the first scientist to be the agency’s administrator.

Embassies: Senate Bill Would Fund Baghdad Project
The Senate was debating at ENR press time an $80.6-billion spending bill with $592 million for a new U.S. embassy complex in Baghdad. The embassy funding is down 10% from the White House request. The bill would have to be reconciled with the House version, which bars funding the Baghdad project. Most of the Senate bill funds go to the Defense Dept., chiefly for Iraq and Afghanistan operations. Military construction would get $1.1 billion.

Compiled by Tom Ichniowski and Catherine Cash