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Archive for Saturday, May 25, 1991

CLOSING ENCOUNTERS

May 25, 1991

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One of the toughest seats in Washington, D.C., these days is a spot on the independent commission assigned to review proposed military base closings around the country.

The six-member Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission is hearing from many members of Congress and community representatives, but they're getting only one message: "Don't close our base!"

Last month, the Pentagon revealed its recommendation to close 43 bases and consolidate or shrink 28 others.

The target closest to the Lawrence area is the Richards-Gebaur Air Reserve Station in Kansas City, Mo. The Pentagon proposes a relatively short move for the Air Force Reserve's 442nd Tactical Fighter Wing, from Richards-Gebaur to Whiteman Air Force Base, about 60 miles east of Kansas City. The move would transfer about 1,100 reservists and civilian workers to Whiteman, but would result in the overall loss of 199 military and 569 civilians jobs in the state. That's a loss for the state of Missouri, but a gain for American taxpayers an estimated savings of $12.9 million a year.

That's the bottom line in the current base closing hearings. The Pentagon needs to save money, and one way it can do it is to consolidate its operations and eliminate bases. Private businesses merge operations and close plants all the time, but they don't have to face angry constituents when they make their decisions.

More than 150 lawmakers have signed up to ask the base closure commission to save jobs and contracts in their districts. That's their job. Their constituents expect them to make the best possible case for keeping the bases in their districts open. But it's the job of the secretary of defense, the independent commission and the president to be more dispassionate in their decisions.

Political pressures have always made it difficult to close military bases, but now is as good a time as any to make some tough decisions. The Pentagon recommendations on base closings presumably can be instituted without endangering national defense objectives. The independent commission should do its best to arrive at fair, objective decisions on base closings, but it shouldn't step away from the task. The bases that are closed will be in someone's district, so each decision is bound to make one group of constituents unhappy. But that's no reason not to proceed with a plan that can save American taxpayers millions of dollars each year.

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