Senate and House negotiators agreed Wednesday on a bill to speed the process of closing unnecessary military bases--traditionally paralyzed by parochial political concerns--and produce savings estimated at $2 billion a year.
The Senate and House are expected to approve the legislation this week and send it to President Reagan for his signature.
The bill would authorize a one-time, fast-track procedure for shutting or consolidating military facilities that a special Pentagon commission decides are no longer needed for the national defense.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Les Aspin (D-Wis.) estimated that about 25 bases eventually would be closed under the expedited process.
Offers ‘Unique Opportunity’
“This is a one-shot proposition--a unique opportunity while we’re changing administrations,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) said. He noted that no military base has been closed since 1977.
Aspin and Nunn said, however, that there is no way to prevent members of Congress affected by a base-closing in their district from seeking to stop the shutdowns by backdoor approaches to the House and Senate appropriations committees.
A 10-member Pentagon commission appointed by Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci has been studying the issue of surplus military bases. Under the bill as approved by a Senate-House conference committee, the panel would have until Dec. 31 to recommend the bases that should be closed.
The bill would require Carlucci to approve or disapprove the entire list by Jan. 16--as a package--and to transmit his recommendation to Congress. Unless both the House and Senate voted against the shutdowns in a resolution of disapproval by April 15, the bases on the list would be closed.
And even if Congress voted to block the shutdowns, the next President could veto that action. It would require a two-thirds vote of both chambers to override the veto and prevent the shutdowns.
Aspin estimated that savings could reach about $2 billion a year after the short-term costs of shutting bases--making separation payments to employees, for example, and disposing of surplus property--were met.
The procedure in the bill, bypassing the usual congressional obstacles, was first suggested in 1986 by Rep. Dick Armey (R-Tex.), and Carlucci initiated talks on the issue with Aspin and Nunn last January.
Bowing somewhat to concerns expressed by Midwestern senators that their area was not represented on the Pentagon commission, the congressional conferees decided to ask Carlucci to name two more members, making a total of 12, to improve its geographic balance.
The compromise bill also would modify the customary environmental safeguards, primarily by shortening the time periods for filing protests or court challenges, Aspin said. Environmental protection measures would be taken after a base has been selected for shutdown, he added.
In addition to domestic bases, the Pentagon would be required to submit a report on any unnecessary overseas installations to the special commission by Oct. 15 so that they could be considered for shutdown or consolidation as well.
The bill provides that no base could be closed before Jan. 1, 1990, and limits the shutdown period to six years.