BRAC: Thrill of Victory, and Agony of Defeat

Posted May 13, 2005 at 6:25pm

The Pentagon’s recommendations for base realignments and closures sent some Members into a fury Friday, while others took a sigh of relief.

A press release from Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.) said the Congressman was “outraged” by plans to shut down a submarine base in New London, Conn. It had narrowly escaped closure in previous BRAC rounds.

“The recommendation to close the SUBASE cannot stand, and we are determined to fight, and we are going to win,” Simmons said in the statement.

Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) represents a district that would be hit by the closure of Fort McPherson.

“It’s one of the largest military installations in Georgia and one of the oldest in the country,” Lewis said in an interview. “I plan to work with our Congressional delegation, the governor, the mayor and other state officials, the business community, to mount as much pressure to save this base. We think there is a role for it to play in a modern military infrastructure.”

The base, Lewis said, doesn’t just provide thousands of jobs, but “it’s part of the history of the state of Georgia and Atlanta and our military.” Former Secretary of State Colin Powell was stationed at Fort McPherson, Lewis noted.

Other Members, however, could hardly contain their excitement in seeing their districts spared — or, even better, gaining missions.

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) said his district had made it through the first major hurdle. “I’m thrilled for the district I represent,” he said in an interview.

Wilson said he had been worried about all the installations in his district including the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, which stands to gain a modest number of employees.

In cases where bases gain missions, Wilson said, not only will those communities be spared economic losses, but they also will see an influx of military construction.

“Now there will be a significant ripple effect of hiring private contractors,” Wilson said. “It’s huge.”

However, he added, communities where bases will close will see the opposite effect.

The base closure process now goes to the commission, which today kicks off a series of hearings.

“Whether you’re a winner or a gainer, today is the end of one phase and the beginning of the next phase,” said Barry Rhoads, who runs The Rhoads Group and served as deputy general counsel to the 1991 BRAC.

But Members of Congress still plan to weigh in, no matter the result in their district.

“Members of Congress do have a very significant role in mobilizing the local community, working with local government, states, chambers of commerce, to help prepare the justifications for the base along with the active duty personnel at the base,” Wilson said.

John Ullyot, spokesman for Virginia Sen. John Warner (R), said the Armed Forces chairman spent Friday, the day the list came out, on the phone with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D) and mayors in the state.

Although Virginia came out of the BRAC list with few proposed closures, one facility in the state — Fort Monroe — was selected for closure. Northern Virginia also is set to lose almost 22,000 jobs, although the Pentagon’s list has slated some of those positions to move to nearby Fort Belvoir.

“As chairman,” Ullyot said, Warner “will help affected communities in Virginia marshal their arguments and personally take part in helping them make their best presentation for the merits of their activities in front of the commissioners.”

Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) said he is analyzing the changes in his Northern Virginia district.

“I think we’re hit the worst,” he said, pointing to the 22,000 jobs that would move out of leased office space. “I don’t know of any other area whose net impact is as bad as that.”