BRAC Commission chairman describes panel's role

  • Published
  • By Jim Garamone
  • American Forces Press Service
The Defense Department's base realignment and closure recommendations are now in the hands of the nine-member commission that will make the final decisions.

The Base Realignment and Closure Commission takes its independent role very seriously, said the BRAC chairman, and he vowed an "open and transparent" process.

Anthony Principi, the commission chairman, said closure and realignment decisions are tough.

"These decisions will impact the lives of a great many Americans," he said. "By going out and visiting bases, by talking to community leaders, we can be that independent check."

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld turned the list of recommendations over to the commission May 13. He recommended closing 33 major bases and realigning 29 other major bases. DOD officials said that with 318 major bases, this BRAC round would close about 10 percent of the stateside bases in DOD.

Secretary Rumsfeld's recommendations are based on the military value of installations measured against a force-structure plan for the next 20 years.

"This is going to be the most difficult (BRAC) round because it is very complex," the former Department of Veterans Affairs secretary said. "There are changes being made at one installation that impact many other installations. It's kind of like a daisy chain. We need to be careful if we make a decision contrary to the secretary of defense recommendation that will have an impact on several other locations, (and we) need to look at that carefully."

Mr. Principi stressed he wants all deliberations to be "open and transparent" and does not want the process to become politicized.

"I want to ensure that decisions are based upon the criteria set out in the law and the force-structure plan, and not because of some political consideration," he said.

The BRAC commission will judge the recommendations using the same criteria that DOD officials used, the most important being military value. But there are other criteria, Mr. Principi said, and those include economic and environmental impacts on communities.

The commission chairman said he thinks his panel needs to look at the changes recommended to the National Guard and Reserve infrastructure.

"I think that will have a major, major impact on the Reserves and the Guard, and we need to look at that carefully," he said.

He said he believes this BRAC round has much more emphasis on the reserve components than previous rounds.

"Obviously, this is a concern," he said. "We're a nation at war, the Guard and Reserves are playing a more prominent role than ever before, certainly (more important than) when I was in uniform. And now we're going to be closing a significant number of bases, and people are going to have to travel greater distances to undertake their weekend drills."

He said this might be easy to travel if the affected person is a pilot. But the people who generate the missions -- the crew chiefs, loadmasters, refuelers and weapons specialists -- are "going to have a tough time" getting to their new assignments.

Many in the Guard and Reserves already travel good distances to serve. Still, "if you grew up in that community and we're saying you have to drive 300 or 400 miles or fly even longer distances, that's going to have an impact on retention," Mr. Principi said.

He went through a similar process as Veterans Affairs secretary. He changed the VA infrastructure to meet changes in demographics and health-care delivery of the 21st century. He said he learned firsthand the upheaval that takes place when a military base that has served the nation half a century or longer is closed.

"I'm very sensitive to it," he said. "That's not to say it's more important than national security. National security always has to have the highest priority. But we always must be mindful of economic impact."

Mr. Principi said commissioners understand the need to transform the military.

"The ability to engage in joint readiness operations and warfighting and capability is a move in the right direction," he said.

He said he agrees with Secretary Rumsfeld's work to make the military "more efficient, effective, mobile and flexible."