Swallowing the base-closing pill

The Pentagon now estimates the current capacity to exceed our needs by 25 percent.

If members of Congress had their way, the latest round of U.S.-military base closings would be at a standstill. And if dozens of towns and states around the country get their way, the number of bases marked for closure would shrink to zero.

Those are just two of the forces opposing a much-needed effort by the Pentagon to make the nation’s burgeoning military more cost-effective. In a time of soaring federal deficits and mounting war costs in Iraq and Afghanistan, a plan to shave billions of dollars in waste from the Pentagon’s budget should not fall prey to political pressures or lobbying campaigns.

The current round of base closings is the fourth and final in a series of closures that began in the late 1980s. Those earlier rounds were successful in doing away with nearly 100 installations. The Government Accountability Office, Congress’s investigative branch, put the savings at nearly $29 billion through 2003, with an annual savings of $7 billion thereafter.

The Pentagon now estimates the nation’s current base capacity to exceed the military’s needs by 25 percent. That should make members of Congress salivate at the chance to cut waste and inefficiency from the Pentagon’s budget. Instead, a sizable contingent in Congress has lined up with an array of states and localities intent on shielding their bases from the cuts.

In truth, it’s hard not to sympathize with local communities worried about the economic impact of a base-closing. In Florida, domestic bases are the third-largest source of income for the state, behind even tourism. With an economy struggling to produce quality jobs, the loss of a military base would wreak havoc for any community.

But economic concerns should not stop the military from paring itself down to size. No state or city should be content to organize its economy around a useless military base. State and localities – along with their eager congressional representatives – should redirect their lobbying efforts toward economic aid to revitalize their sagging economies.

President George W. Bush has already signaled his willingness to push the base-closing process forward. He should now put his weight behind the types of economic aid that would make the base-closing pill easier to swallow for many local communities.