WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Tuesday that he expects this year’s Base Realignment and Closure process to be more modest than estimates that have been used in the past six years, due to the large number of troops moving back to the United States.

A March 2004 study by the department indicated that military facilities nationwide were at 24 percent excess capacity, and a 1998 study estimated it was between 20 and 25 percent.

But Rumsfeld said those numbers came before officials reassessed forces stationed overseas, and decided to rotate thousands of troops out of Europe and east Asia.

“It looks now like actual number will be less than the lower end of that (1998) range,” Rumsfeld said at a news conference Tuesday. “But how much lower still remains to be seen.”

In August, President Bush announced plans to return to the United States about 70,000 troops from Europe and the Pacific, to reflect global posture needs. Units have begun planning moves, but exactly where they’ll be based has yet to be announced.

The BRAC commission is scheduled to announce its closure recommendations on May 16.

After the May report is released, the BRAC commission will review the list with defense officials and submit its final recommendations to the president in September. In November, the president is scheduled to submit his recommendations to Congress, who will announce their final list in late December.

Several Democratic lawmakers have pushed to stop the BRAC process in recent months, saying that the uncertainty surrounding those troops’ futures and the ongoing war on terror makes closing down bases a risky prospect.

But Rumsfeld referred to the BRAC commission as “a good thing” because it helps make sure taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely. The defense secretary said no decisions have been made so far as to which facilities will be closed or reduced.

Defense officials have emphasized closings will be done only if facilities aren’t needed, not based on political considerations. Rumsfeld said he has not met with any state governors about the process, even though a number have visited Washington to lobby on behalf of their military bases.

The Los Angeles Times contributed to this report.

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