Shortly before the holidays, the Bush Administration delivered an unwelcome present to every community in America hosting a military base: draft selection criteria for the biggest round of base closures ever. Four of the criteria focus on the military value of bases (capability, availability, adaptability and cost). The other four focus on the consequences of closure or realignment — projected savings, economic impacts, adequacy of local infrastructure and environmental implications.
After public comment, the criteria will be sent to Congress in February. If Congress does not reject them, they become the official metrics for deciding which sites to close. A list of recommended closures will be submitted to a presidential commission in March, 2005. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has told associates he wants to eliminate a quarter of domestic basing capacity in the 2005 round. That shouldn’t come as any surprise, since the Pentagon five years ago projected excess capacity of 23% in 2003.
The Bush Administration isn’t eager to discuss this issue prior to November elections. Republican electoral strength is concentrated in states with heavy base dependency. If Eglin Air Force base were in Alabama rather than Florida, Al Gore might be in the White House today. But with Rumsfeld determined to improve the military’s “tooth-to-tail” ratio, it doesn’t take a genius to see that support activities — research, testing, logistics — will take a bigger hit than bases hosting combat units.
Each of the services has excess support capacity. For example, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Maine will have little to do once it finishes refueling Los Angeles-class submarines. But the biggest slice of unused capacity seems to be in Army industrial facilities. The service owns five depots that repair equipment, half a dozen arsenals that produce it, and over twenty ammunition plants. Pentagon estimates peg excess capacity in Army industrial facilities at 38%. The real number is probably higher.
It’s hard to see how many of these facilities can escape closure in an administration that equates efficiency with market forces. Maintenance depots can easily be consolidated to three sites at Anniston, AL (vehicles), Corpus Christi, TX (helicopters), and Tobyhanna, PA (electronics). The Red River depot in Texas does little besides repairing Bradley fighting vehicles, a task well-suited to Anniston. The Letterkenny, PA depot repairs missiles, a job better done by companies that make them.
As for the ammo plants and arsenals, these look like artifacts of an age long gone. Obvious targets include Detroit Arsenal in Michigan, Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey, Pine Bluff Arsenal in Arkansas, Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois and Watervliet Arsenal in New York. Each of these sites hosts over a thousand workers doing work better procured from the private sector (if it’s necessary at all). Rationalizing this rusting infrastructure could free up a lot of money for military transformation.
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