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COYLE TAPPED FOR PANEL CALIFORNIAN NOMINATED TO FEDERAL MILITARY BASE CLOSURE COMMISSION.

Byline: Jim Skeen Staff Writer

LANCASTER - California officials and supporters of Edwards Air Force Base are applauding the nomination of a former Pentagon official to the federal commission that will recommend military bases for closing.

Philip Coyle, a former Defense Department director of operational test and evaluation, has advocated consolidating military training and testing at Southwest bases, including Edwards and the Point Mugu and China Lake Navy ranges.

``He understands the Defense Department and the bigger mission,'' said Leon Panetta, a Clinton administration official who is co-chairman of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's military base advisory panel. ``He also understands California and the role it plays. It's the best of both worlds.''

At stake are California's 36 major and 25 minor facilities - the most of any state. Four previous rounds of base closures since the 1990s hit California hard, axing 29 major installations and cutting 100,000 defense-related jobs.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld must submit a list of installations recommended for closure or realignment by May 16. The Base Realignment and Closure Commission must send its own recommendations to President Bush by Sept. 8.

The president has has until Sept. 23 to approve or reject the findings.

Coyle is one of nine nominees submitted to the Senate by Bush for confirmation to the commission. Coyle, a Los Angeles resident, serves as an adviser to a think tank on defense issues.

Until his nomination to the base closure commission, Coyle was a member with Panetta on Schwarzenegger's California Council on Base Support and Retention, an advisory panel created in response to the upcoming round of base closures.

``I'm honored to be recommended and nominated,'' Coyle said. He declined to comment further, citing the upcoming confirmation hearings.

Coyle's name was one put forward for consideration by Schwarzenegger's panel, whose members wanted at least one Californian on the panel.

Coyle is on record as supporting the Southwest Defense Complex, a concept that calls for consolidating military training and test and evaluation missions at bases in California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Texas.

``He understands test and evaluation and (military test) ranges,'' said Bob Johnstone, executive director of the Southwest Defense Alliance and a former Edwards official. ``I highly respect Phil Coyle. He'll do a good job.''

Coyle's nomination was also praised by state Sen. Roy Ashburn, R-Bakersfield, whose sprawling 18th District includes several military bases, including Edwards. Ashburn chairs the state Senate Select Committee on Defense and Aerospace Industry.

``It's a good nomination because of his hands-on experience with test and evaluation,'' Ashburn said of Coyle. ``Research and development, test and evaluation is exactly what the Southwest Defense Alliance is all about.''

Coyle is one of two Californians nominated to the commission. The other is Anthony Principi, whose name was put forward by Bush as chairman.

Principi is a former San Diego businessman who served as secretary of veterans affairs before stepping down in January. He recently became the vice president for governmental relations of the pharmaceutical company Pfizer.

The nomination of Principi was also applauded by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee.

``I am confident that Secretary Principi will work diligently to assess our military's force structure and homeland security needs,'' Hunter said. ``As a San Diegan, Secretary Principi recognizes the importance of California's military infrastructure and its role in the maintenance and development of our defense capabilities.''

The other nominees are former Nevada congressman James Bilbray; former Utah congressman James Hansen; retired Navy Adm. Harold W. Gehman Jr. of Virginia; retired Army Gen. James T. Hill of Florida; retired Army Lt. Gen. Claude M. Kicklighter of Georgia; former Secretary of Transportation Samuel Skinner of Illinois; and retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Sue Ellen Turner of Texas.

The nominees must be confirmed by the Senate.

The next major step for the state's efforts to support its military bases will come in two or three weeks when the California Council on Base Support and Retention releases a report with its recommendations.

Ashburn said once the report is released, his committee will hold a hearing to review the recommendations and to see how the state can help put them into action as quickly as possible.

One suggestion put forward by Edwards supporters is for Gov. Schwarzenegger to convene a regional strategy session with the other governors in the proposed Southwest Defense Complex. While it's too late to influence individual military service decisions, such a session could influence decisions made at the Secretary of Defense's Office, Johnstone said.

That recommendation will be included in the final report, Panetta said.

``We urged that the governor work with the governors of the southwest region to advance a united front,'' Panetta said.

The Southwest Defense Alliance will continue to work on briefing and trying to unify the state's congressional delegation. Johnstone said. Johnstone said he will continue that work in person when he travels to Washington, D.C., in early April as part of the annual legislative lobbying trip by the Antelope Valley Board of Trade.

The previous four rounds of base closures since the 1990s have saved the Defense Department an estimated $28.9 billion, Pentagon officials said. Another round could save as much as an additional $7 billion annually, federal officials said.

Jim Skeen, (661) 267-5743

james.skeen(at)dailynews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 20, 2005
Words:881
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