Weighing Savings, Costs of Military Base Closures Alex Chadwick discusses Friday's Defense Department announcement of recommended military base closures with Christian Science Monitor reporter Mark Sappenfield. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says the closures could save the government billions of dollars in operating expenses -- but the affected communities are bracing for the local economic impact.
NPR logo Weighing Savings, Costs of Military Base Closures

Weighing Savings, Costs of Military Base Closures

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Alex Chadwick discusses Friday's Defense Department announcement of recommended military base closures with Christian Science Monitor reporter Mark Sappenfield. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says the closures could save the government billions of dollars in operating expenses — but the affected communities are bracing for the local economic impact.

Base Closure News Conference

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From NPR News and Slate magazine online, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, the buzz from Washington buzzed this week by a small airplane. NPR's Juan Williams will be here.

First, national news that is local in many places across the country, military base closings. The Pentagon says it may not really need perhaps 10 percent of the military bases in the US and its territories. That's good, because it means the defense budget can save $48 billion over the next 20 years with a series of base closings announced today. But it's bad for anxious towns and communities around these bases. They worry about lost jobs and income. At the Pentagon today, Defense official Michael Wynne gave details.

Mr. MICHAEL WYNNE (Defense Official): We are recommending the closure of 33 of the 318 major military installations in the United States and the realigning of 29 more. We're also recommending the closure or realignment of another 775 smaller military locations.

CHADWICK: Here with us now to talk about these closings is Mark Sappenfield. He's a reporter for The Christian Science Monitor. He covers military affairs. He's in Oakland, California, today.

Mark, anything generally to say about these closures? Are they concentrated in any geographical pattern?

Mr. MARK SAPPENFIELD (Reporter, The Christian Science Monitor): I think if you were going to go down the list and say which areas were hurt the most and which areas gained the most, it looks pretty clear that the area that seemed to have been hit the hardest was the Northeast. The area that seemed to gain the most was the Southeast. If you look at the potential gains that are coming--obviously, this is really new information at this point. It was just released to members of Congress just hours ago.

But some of the lists I've seen show states getting a net gain of jobs in excess of 6,000 jobs. So for example, if you look at Georgia, it had a major installation closed in Ft. Gillem and Ft. McPherson, but it also--it's looking perhaps to get major gains in other areas like Ft. Benning. And I think according to what I'm seeing is it could get as many as 6,000 jobs in.

CHADWICK: How much is politics a factor in selecting these bases, and how much of it is the--is it the Pentagon saying, `Well, we'd like to have them here'?

Mr. SAPPENFIELD: I think the list that you see today reflects about 0 percent politics. This is the Pentagon's will. This is what they want. This is what they feel they need to help in their process, their ongoing process of reshaping the military from a kind of large cumbersome Cold War force into something that's more rapid response and can deploy quickly.

The politics, if it does come in, is going to come in at this point when it's the BRAC Commission, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission is going to consider what the Pentagon has proposed. And then, after a couple months, it's going to propose its own list. And I think the different areas, the different regions and the different congressmen and women from those areas have a chance to lobby that group. They will go to all the bases that are scheduled for closing and see what they think.

So if there's going to be any politics, that's where it's going to come in.

CHADWICK: This is the first base closings announcement really in a decade. This realignment commission that you mentioned did look at how things went 10 years ago and said, `Actually, the impact on many of these communities was not nearly as bad as a lot of them had imagined.'

Mr. SAPPENFIELD: I've seen statistics from the Government Accountability Office that suggests that over the entire previous four closings, those areas that have been closed have recouped about 85 percent of the jobs they lost. Now I think probably that skews a little bit more towards areas where you have growth, where the closures were in places that they're near cities or places where they're growing and can replace those jobs more easily. But that figure is still significant. It shows that with planning and an attempt to look forward, you can actually make good out of the situation.

CHADWICK: Mark Sappenfield of The Christian Science Monitor.

Thank you, Mark.

Mr. SAPPENFIELD: You're welcome.

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