Leader Blues

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

EDITORIAL >> BRAC slows base growth

Little Rock Air Force Base would have gained dozens of C-130 transport planes and some 4,000 personnel had the Base Realignment and Closure Commission agreed with the Pentagonís list of proposed military base closings, which would have saved taxpayers billions of dollars and made our military more efficient.

But bending to political pressure from several states that would not let go of their military facilities without a fight, the commission this week virtually sabotaged the Pentagonís carefully thought-out plan to consolidate this nationís military by phasing out useless bases. It appears now that our air base will gain about half the number of planes ó perhaps as few as 25 and as few as 1,000 new personnel, which would have been fine under normal circumstances but not in todayís complicated world.

These are unusual times, with rising deficits and our military stretched to the limit. The BRAC Commission need not have rubber-stamped the Pentagonís list of closings, but the panel left too many bases open to achieve significant savings and make the military more agile.

Sure, Arkansans may be grateful that the commission did not eliminate the Little Red River Army Depot in Texarkana, Texas. In addition, the Air National Guard will stay in Fort Smith, but the BRAC Commis-sion has done us few other favors. It chose to keep open South Dakotaís Ellsworth Air Force Base, whose bombers would have moved down to Dyess AFB in Texas. Dyessí C-130s, in turn, would have come here.

On the positive side, we could get some planes from Pope AFB, but not as many as we had hoped. Whatís more, Sen. Hillary Clinton will keep her C-130s at the Niagara Falls, N.Y., Air National Guard, which would have moved here if the BRAC Commission had gone along with the Pentagonís wishes.

The commission will now submit its conclusions to President Bush and Congress, who can accept or reject the BRACís entire list of recommendations. Chances are they will go along with the commission because no one wants to start the process all over again anytime soon.

The BRAC Commissionís recommendations are disappointing, although the Air Force could still move most of the planes it had wanted to even if the other facilities stay open. The Pentagon didnít get everything it wanted during the review process, but it can still exercise good judgment and consolidate much of its C-130 fleet right here at Little Rock Air Force Base.

Central Arkansas can support the militaryís effort at streamlining by welcoming however many new planes and people weíll wind up with, and then keep lobbying ó and lobby hard ó for more of them in the years ahead.