States challenge Pentagon's claim it can shut Guard bases
WASHINGTON - States and congressional delegations, fearful the Pentagon will target their military bases for closure, are challenging Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's claim that he can shutter Army and Air National Guard installations witho...
WASHINGTON - States and congressional delegations, fearful the Pentagon will target their military bases for closure, are challenging Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's claim that he can shutter Army and Air National Guard installations without a governor's consent.
Undeterred, the Pentagon is moving forward with plans to release its list of proposed closures Friday.
The list is being kept under wraps, but defense analysts say they expect more than two dozen National Guard facilities to be tapped for closure or relocation. They suspect the Air National Guard will be hit hard, given that the Pentagon wants to scale back the F-16 fighter jet and other older planes located at domestic Air Guard facilities.
At least one state, Illinois, is threatening to go to court to block Rumsfeld.
"Every state is watching to see what Illinois does," said Paul Hirsch, a Washington lobbyist working on behalf of bases in Florida, California and Virginia. "This is something that could impact every state."
Governors in several states including North Dakota, Delaware and Arizona have weighed in on the issue, and the New Jersey congressional delegation has asked that the Pentagon cease any attempt to close National Guard bases. That followed a similar plea by Illinois lawmakers - including House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Sen. Richard Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate.
"We respectfully request that any and all actions taken" during the base-closing process "against Air and Army National Guard bases without the consent of the governors of those states be stopped immediately," they wrote in a March 24 letter to Rumsfeld.
Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said Tuesday she would sue the Defense Department in federal court on behalf of Gov. Rod Blagojevich if two of the state's National Guard bases - in Springfield and in Peoria - appear on the Pentagon's list and an independent base-closing commission upholds those recommendations.
The Army National Guard numbers 350,000, and units are located at roughly 3,300 armories and other small installations scattered across the country. Roughly 106,000 people are in the Air National Guard. Its units are stationed at 95 Air Force bases and Air National Guard installations and on leased land at 78 civilian spots, including airports where airmen typically also provide firefighting, medical and security services.
The National Guard Association of the United States, a nonpartisan organization representing nearly 45,000 current and former Guard officers, argues that states should be consulted.
"They're using a federal spreadsheet to make decisions on bases that have state missions without including the state," spokesman John Goheen said.
The Pentagon wants to close and downsize some of its 425 major U.S. domestic bases as well as smaller installations to save billions of dollars a year. States are worried because losing a military installation could be a blow to the local economy - and they're doing whatever they can to try to spare them.
States and the Pentagon are relying on different laws as they stake out their positions.
Governors and congressional delegations cite a law that says in part that Army or Air National Guard units can't be "relocated or withdrawn under this chapter without the consent of the governor of the state."
The Pentagon argues that another law that authorizes this round of base closures takes precedence and allows Rumsfeld to close or downsize National Guard bases without getting approval from governors.
Michael Wynne, acting Pentagon undersecretary for acquisition, technology and assistance, said in an April 12 response letter to lawmakers that for the round of closures to be "a truly comprehensive process and to achieve our objective in support of the warfighter, the process must involve all of our installations, including those used by the reserve component."
However, Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said last week in Bismarck, N.D., that the states are correct. "It's a very valid argument. It's exactly the right argument," Blum said.
The commission charged with reviewing the Pentagon's list has suggested a legal opinion may be necessary.
The Guard's unique joint mission contributes to the legal confusion.
On a federal level, the Guard is part of the U.S. military force responsible for national security. The president can activate units for federal missions, including wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Pentagon owns the weapons systems.
The Guard also has a state role. Governors, through their adjutant generals, command both Guard forces during statewide emergencies like civil disturbances, floods, hurricanes or forest fires.