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Officials question savings of base closings -NYT

August 13, 2005

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Most members of the independent
commission assessing the Pentagon’s proposed list of military
base closings say the Pentagon may have overstated the nearly
$50 billion in savings by as much as nearly 50 percent, The New
York Times reported in Sunday’s editions.

The commissioners, seven of whom were interviewed by the
Times, expressed concern about the accuracy of the Defense
Department figures and said they had directed the commission’s
staff to conduct a separate savings analysis before the
commission’s final votes on the military’s recommendations
later this month, the newspaper said.

Most of the commission members told the Times they agreed
with a report this summer by federal investigators that
concluded that nearly half of the Pentagon’s projected savings
came from cuts in military jobs that often would merely be
reassigned to other installations.

“I fail to see at this point how you could arrive at the
figures they arrived at,” commission chairman Anthony Principi
told the Times. “We’re going through this effort to save money
from excess capacity to modernize forces. If the savings aren’t
there and it costs money to do this on top of all the economic
upheaval, why are we doing this?”

Pentagon spokesman Glenn Flood told the Times a detailed
explanation of the projected savings was being prepared for the
commission.

“We stand by what we said,” he said.

The commission must submit its findings to President George
W. Bush by September 8, after which Bush and Congress have
until November 7 to reject or accept the entire package.

The commission members told the Times the panel’s final
vote could be affected if they determine that the Pentagon
proposals yield smaller savings than projected, or cost money.

“It will have an impact,” Philip Coyle III, a commission
member and top Pentagon weapons evaluator during the 1990s,
told the newspaper. “It may be that closures or realignments
that were proposed, in part because they would save money, may
actually cost money. The whole idea is to save taxpayers
money.”

“The final decisions won’t be unduly influenced by the
Defense Department estimates because we’ll do our own,” said
commission member Samuel Skinner, a former chief of staff to
President George H.W. Bush.

Adm. Harold Gehman Jr., a retired Navy officer on the
panel, said, “It’s very likely that we’ll support a Defense
Department recommendation even if it couldn’t demonstrate the
payback, if we were absolutely convinced the military value was
significant. But the burden of proof would be on them.”

Public hearings are set to begin on August 24 and last for
four days.