Cheney Defends Base-Closing Decisions

DEFENSE Secretary Richard Cheney told a special base-closure commission that budget pressure and relaxed world tensions are the reasons behind the Pentagon proposals to cut back on the number of facilities it operates. Secretary Cheney recommended to the commission that it close 31 major military facilities and 12 minor ones and realign the tasks performed at a number of other bases.

The commission will recommend to the president by July 1 that some or all of the bases on Cheney's list be closed. President Bush must approve the list in whole or reject it, and if he turns it down the commission can rewrite it and submit it again. If the president approves the list, it goes on to Congress, which has one chance to reject it and block the closings.

To remove politics from the base-closing process, the commission has decided to conduct regional hearings on the proposed closings in eight cities in May.

Cheney testified that decisions were made to recommend bases for closing both on the grounds of lessened world tensions and because of budget pressures. He said decisions on which bases to close were affected by plans to cut the US force by about 25 percent through 1995.

"The thing that is driving the need to restructure is changing world circumstances and the budget situation," he said.

"If we don't have the courage to close bases we don't need we will be spending money on things we don't need," he added. "If we waste money on redundant bases, it's going to affect our national security."

Cheney also said that the savings could be applied to weapons modernization, training, quality-of-life improvements for the troops, and other programs.

The secretary estimated that once the costs of closing the bases are recouped, the Pentagon will save $800 million in operating expenses in the first year after breaking even and $1.7 billion per year thereafter.

Noting the intense political pressure that has surrounded every announcement of intended base closings, Cheney told the panel, "I have done a lot of difficult things in the last two years, but I would have to put this up at the top of the list."

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