The ax has finally swung. After months of tense waiting in communities all across the United States, a Pentagon panel has announced the military bases it wants chopped out of the defense budget.
Closing down the 86 installations on its list could save taxpayers $5.6 billion over 20 years, claims the commission's report. But the bases' surrounding communities are sure to complain loudly about the loss of jobs and military dollars.
``They will have a hard time swallowing it,'' admitted panel co-chairman Jack Edwards, a former member of Congress from Alabama.
Controversy may also arise as to which of the US armed forces branches would lose the most. One commission member charged that the Navy escaped its fair share of closings by simply refusing to cooperate. ``Intransigence paid off,'' wrote the member, former Missouri Sen. Thomas Eagleton, in a personal view appended to the panel report.
Overall, the defense secretary's Commission on Base Realignment and Closure called for 86 installations to be fully shut down, and for five to be partially closed. Fifty-four others would feel some effect, either an increase or small decrease in manpower, if the panel's wishes are carried out.
The commission was appointed last spring by Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci and received congressional blessing in the fall by passage of a bill setting its powers. Mr. Carlucci and Congress can either accept the panel's recommendations as is, or reject them. They cannot pick and choose.
This unusual arrangement was arrived at to break the stalemate on base closings. Members of Congress worried about job loss have effectively stopped any proposed closures during the last 10 years.
Of the 86 places on the panel's chopping list, 52 are small military housing units whose loss would probably not be mourned by anyone. A number of others are inactive and covered with weeds, such as the Alabama Ammunition Plant (one employee) and the Army's Cape St. George installation, which consists of one unusable helipad.
Others have not been built yet - and will not be, if the commission's recommendations go through. The panel suggests that the Pentagon not construct a home port for a battleship and suppport vessels at Hunters Point in San Francisco, for instance - basing the ships instead in Hawaii and elsewhere in California.
But a number of the panel's recommendations would mean closing down active bases and shifting their personnel to other locations. Justification for these suggestions includes a number of reasons for bases that are:
Redundant. The Air Force, for instance, would lose a number of installations because their functions are duplicated elsewhere. The commission recommends shutting Norton Air Force Base in California partly because it is one of six strategic airlift bases; Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire partly because it is one of 12 strategic bomber bases; and Chanute Air Force Base in Illinois partly because it is one of five technical training centers.
Bad shape. Some facilities are so ramshackle that it doesn't pay to fix them. The buildings at Cameron Station, in Virginia near Washington, are ``a maze of hallways and offices,'' says the panel report, not fit for the Defense Logistics Agency and other tenants. Shuttering the Army Material Technology Lab in Massachusetts would ``avoid major renovation costs.''
Hemmed in. Bases smack in the middle of high-value urban real estate have nowhere to expand and could command a good market price, the report says. The Presidio of San Francisco, for instance, falls into the crowded category - though only a small portion of this registered historic landmark could be sold. Fort Sheridan in Illinois and Kapalama Military Reservation in Hawaii are other examples of bases in the wrong places.
Under the panel's plan, California would be the No. 1 state in terms of jobs lost - 24,558 military and civilian personnel. But there are so many military installations in California that this figure represents only a 5 percent reduction in the military presence there.
New Hampshire, by contrast, would lose 47 percent of the armed forces presence in its borders if the 2,650 people employed at Pease AFB leave. (However, the Portsmouth Shipyard in Maine is only 10 miles from the New Hampshire border and has 8,000 Defense Department jobs.)
The big winner would appear to be Idaho. Almost 3,000 Air Force personnel would be transferred to its Mt. Home Air Force Base - increasing state military numbers by 27 percent.
The commission urged that localities hit by a base loss develop recovery action plans and local organizations to deal with the blow. ``Many communities that have dealt with closures have thrived,'' the report concluded.
A separate report released this week by the private group Business Executives for National Security similarly argued that local initiative is the key to living through base loss.
When Kincheloe Air Force Base in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., closed in 1977, unemployment in the surrounding county reached 30 percent, according to the Business Executives survey. But an industrial park on the site, 95 percent privately financed, eventually quadrupled the township's tax base. ``Today, unemployment is only 5.8 percent,'' the report says.
Proposed list of bases to be closed
Army Alabama Ammunition Plant, Ala. Coosa River Annex, Ala. Navajo Depot Activity, Ariz. Hamilton Army Airfield, Calif. Presidio, San Francisco Cape St. George, Fla. Kapalama Military Res., Phase III, Hawaii Fort Sheridan, Ill. Jefferson Proving Ground, Ind. Fort Des Moines, Iowa (to close in part) Lexington Depot, Ky. New Orleans Military Ocean Terminal, La. Former Nike site, Aberdeen, Md. Fort Holabird, Md. (to close in part) Fort Meade, Md. (to close in part) Army Material Technology Lab., Mass. Pontiac Storage Facility, Mich. Nike Kansas City, 30, Mo. Fort Dix, N.J. (to semi-active status) Nike Philadelphia 41-43, N.J. Fort Wingate, N.M. Tacony Warehouse, Pa. Fort Douglas, Utah Cameron Station, Va. 52 housing installations in 13 states
Navy Naval Station San Francisco, Hunters Point, Calif. (not to be constructed) Naval Station Lake Charles, La. Naval Station New York, Brooklyn, N.Y. Naval Hospital, Philadelphia Naval Station, Galveston, Texas Naval Station Puget Sound, Sand Point, Wash.
Air Force Chanute Air Force Base, Ill. George Air Force Base, Calif. Mather Air Force Base, Calif. Norton Air Force Base, Calif. Pease Air Force Base, N.H.
Miscellaneous properties Salton Sea Test Base, Calif. Bennett Army National Guard Facility, Colo. Naval Reserve Center, Coconut Grove, Fla. Indiana Army Ammunition Plant, Ind. (to close in part) Army Reserve Center, Gaithersburg, Md. Defense Mapping Agency, Herndon, Va. Source: AP