THE panel that last week recommended the closing of 86 military installations in the United States and the partial closing of five more performed its task ably. It made a major contribution to resolving a perennially thorny issue. Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci should approve the panel's report, and Congress should permit the recommendations to go into effect. Unfortunately, the projected savings are smaller than earlier estimates, which had ranged as high as $5 billion a year. Under the final proposals, the Pentagon would save about $694 million a year in operating costs, and $5.6 billion over 20 years. Such savings represent only a tiny part of the overall defense budget; still, they are far from negligible.
The biggest constraint on the panel's work was the requirement in its charter that all closing and relocation costs have to be offset by savings within six years. Former Congressman Jack Edwards, one of the panel's cochairmen, noted that substantially more savings could be realized if the ``payback'' requirement were stretched to 10 to 20 years.
Nonetheless, within the limits of its brief, the panel made prudent choices. Military analysts concur that the proposals, in addition to saving money by closing redundant, obsolete, or deteriorating installations, will heighten military efficiency by consolidating personnel engaged in similar missions, facilitating training, and streamlining command and control networks.
Despite Mr. Edward's assurance that there will not be ``any substantial socio-economic disruption'' to communities affected by the closures, some cities undoubtedly will experience distress. The Pentagon's Office of Economic Adjustment should do all it can to assist communities that face losses of jobs and revenue. Experience from earlier shutdowns of military bases shows that communities, with imaginative civic leadership, can surmount the short-term problems.
Predictably, some communities and their congressional representatives have already started to complain about the proposals. But they should set aside their parochial concerns in the interest of the national good. It would be regrettable if a minority in Congress, unable to block the recommendations, nevertheless find ways to gut them in the process of appropriating the funds necessary to begin the closures.
Belt tightening is never easy. The panel is to be commended for coming up with proposals that, overall, are rational and fair.