QDR Military Base Closure Recommendations Divide Capitol Hill.
The House of Representatives passed its companion measure a week earlier, but the House bill has no mention of military base closings. The Senate debated numerous amendments to the legislation that would have changed the base closure title. The debate over the military closures provision emanated in part from the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), whose release by the Department of Defense on October 1 coincided with Senate debate on the bill.
The QDR will set America's defense policy on a new course. The report calls on the DOD to modernize operations, including increase efficiency through the elimination of excess capacity. In this new military age, the QDR suggests that the administration and Congress reevaluate where defense spending is allocated and increase funding to programs that will aid the military in preparing for the challenges of the 21st century.
A cornerstone of the DOD's restructuring program is the consolidation and modernization of facility infrastructure. Currently, the DOD claims that its facilities are operating at 20-25 percent excess capacity. In July 2001, the administration announced the creation of the Efficient Facilities Initiative (EFI) to deal with the excess capacity issues. If enacted by Congress, the EFI would allow the DOD to evaluate every base and make recommendations based on each base's value to overall military operations. Through consolidation, the DOD believes it will be able to enhance the funding of bases already in existence. This restructuring is estimated to save the DOD $3.5 billion annually.
Since 1988 four commissions have recommended nearly 100 base closures. Referring to the EFI plan, President Bush stated "enactment of this provision will ensure the that the Department of Defense can reshape and restructure its installations to serve the country's national security in the 21st century."
Despite the support of the administration and prominent senators, such as Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Commerce Committee Ranking Member John McCain (RAriz.), the idea of new military base closures faces stiff opposition. Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) leads 47 senators who oppose the measure. Lott's state is home to nine defense facilities that employ more than 30,000 people a year and generate more than a $1 billion a year in wages. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) has expressed concern that military base closures could exacerbate an already enfeebled economy on the brink of recession. Now the debate moves to a House-Senate Conference Committee.
Environmental Cleanup Issues Still Unresolved from Previous Closures
Environmental clean-up of closed or realigned military facilities remains a hot issue in Congress. Many of the bases closed in previously are still waiting for clean-up to be eligible for re-use by communities. In a recently released report by the General Accounting Office (GAO), as of a year ago the DOD identified 9,731 properties for the potential inclusion in the Formerly Used Defense Sites (FUDS) cleanup program. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), which handles the cleanup effort, estimates it will spend $15 billion to $20 billion to clean up contamination this year. Just last year, 2,700 properties were identified as eligible for cleanup.
Once the property is identified as being eligible for cleanup, USACE must follow a specified process established for cleanup actions, as outlined under the Comprehensive Environmental, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCA). After determining eligibility, the site is inspected to confirm the presence, extent, and source(s) of hazardous materials. If hazardous materials are discovered and a formal cleanup is required, USACE performs the cleanup.
The DOD has stated it wants an improved cleanup process in place or a complete cleanup by 2014 for the eligible FUDS that have had hazardous, toxic or radioactive wastes in their soil and pose a threat to public health. In the report on the cleanup effort at FUDS, the GAO has specified that the DOD must show more veracity when reporting cleanup progress. According to the DOD, after 15 years and $2.6 billion in expenditures, more than 50 percent of the FUDS projects have been completed.
The GAO believes that number to be more along the lines of 32 percent and that the remaining projects would require $70 billion in funding and take 70 years to complete. To improve the accuracy of the DOD's FUDS initial survey and the estimation of costs related to cleanup efforts, the GAO recommends that USACE conduct a study of excluded cleanup sites, to see if they should be included in the next survey. The DOD agrees that it must clarify FUDS reports to Congress and review the projects that were left of its survey.