California Lawmakers Hit Plan to Close Bases

Times Staff Writer

Six members of the California congressional delegation Wednesday protested the proposed closing of military bases in the state, charging that the action would not save money or serve national security interests.

Testifying with 15 other congressmen before a House panel considering the base closings, the California representatives disputed the findings of the federal Commission on Realignment and Closure, which in December issued a list of 86 military facilities that it said were an unnecessary burden on the federal budget.

"There is no way that we can justify accepting this report in total . . . if the savings are not there," said Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Highland), who defended George Air Force Base in San Bernardino County, one of the bases on the list.

The lawmakers also criticized the commission for failing to provide the data on which their recommendations were based. Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) declared that "the commission cannot support its recommendations in a way that can withstand scrutiny."

Under the legislation that created the special commission, Congress has until 45 days after March 1 to vote down the entire list or allow the closings to go into effect automatically. The all-or-nothing arrangement was provided to help insulate the review from political pressures and prevent congressmen from attacking the list piecemeal to protect interests in their districts.

Because of the high priority on reducing the federal budget deficit, House and Senate leaders have said it is unlikely that Congress will disapprove the list.

According to the commission, the proposed closings, along with substantial scaling back at five others and "realignments" at 54 more, would save the federal government $5.6 billion over 20 years.

Six military facilities in California have been targeted for closing.

At Wednesday's hearing before a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, several protesting congressmen complained that repeated attempts to see material used by the commission were "stonewalled" by both the panel and the Defense Department.

Lewis said he suspected that information on the facilities provided by the Defense Department was "misleading" and that the decision to close George AFB "may very well raise questions" about the validity of the rest of the commission's report.

Posing a rhetorical question, Lewis asked: "When is it all right for the Department of Defense to lie to Congress?"

Jim Abbee, a spokesman for the commission, said that "all the data" will be made available. Members of the commission will testify before the subcommittee next Wednesday about their findings.

Abbee defended the report and said that he is "confident that the analysis process was not flawed and the data we worked with was accurate." He said that the commission has received "a lot of praise" from members of Congress and that it continues to stand by all of its recommendations.

Some of those testifying charged that the $5.6 billion in savings cited by the commission is too small to justify the closings, considering the bases' economic value to their communities and their contribution to national security. Others disputed the savings estimate altogether.

"We contend that if the Presidio is closed, it will cost the taxpayers more money," said Rep. Barbara Boxer (D-Greenbrae), protesting the recommended shutdown of 6th Army headquarters at the base of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said her figures show that it will cost an additional $26 million each year if the military facility is closed and if the site is operated as a historical site by the Interior Department.

The commission projected annual savings of $74.1 million by closing the Presidio.

Other California congressmen protesting base closings at the hearing were Robert T. Matsui (D-Sacramento), Vic Fazio (D-Sacramento) and George E. Brown (D-Colton).

The other California bases to be closed are Norton Air Force Base near San Bernardino, Hamilton Army Airfield in Marin County, Mather Air Force Base near Sacramento and the Navy's inactive Salton Sea Test Base.

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