Washington — The government's latest effort to mothball obsolete military installations moved into high gear Tuesday with the appointment of a nine-member base-closing commission that will spend the next six months preparing a hit list of bases.
Headed by former Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi, the commission could recommend cutting or realigning up to a fourth of the nation's estimated 450 major military installations, the biggest round of base closings since World War II. President Bush and Congress must ratify its recommendations.
Bush submitted the list of nominees in response to a congressional mandate creating the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission. The commissioners are expected to be confirmed easily by the Senate.
The next big step comes May 16, when Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld submits his recommendations for base closings and realignments to the commission, touching off a politically charged series of public hearings and visits to targeted bases. Previous base-closing commissions have endorsed 85 percent of the Pentagon's recommendations.
In addition to Principi, the nominees are former Rep. James Bilbray, D-Nev.; Clinton administration Assistant Defense Secretary Philip Coyle; retired Adm. Harold Gehman Jr.; former Rep. James Hansen, R-Utah; retired Army Gens. James Hill and Claude Kicklighter; George H.W. Bush administration Transportation Secretary Samuel Skinner of Illinois; and retired Air Force Gen. Sue Ellen Turner of Texas.