Call for commission on overseas military facilities
ARLINGTON, Va. — With the Bush administration in the early stages of what almost certainly will be a major revamping of the U.S. military’s presence around the globe, U.S. senators have decided Congress needs to take its own detailed look at overseas military facilities overseas.
A bill to establish an overseas military base commission was introduced Tuesday by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, chairwoman of the Senate Military Construction Appropriations Subcommittee, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the subcommittee’s ranking member.
“It has become clear to me there are problems” with overseas bases, Hutchison said during a Tuesday press conference to announce the new commission. “We are overdue for a thorough examination of whether those installations meet our changing needs.”
Members of Congress are particularly concerned about the training restrictions U.S. forces face as urban development encroaches on once-isolated bases, she said.
And although the recent refusal by Turkey, Germany and Austria to cooperate with U.S. plans for the war in Iraq is not the main reason why the Senate is standing up the committee, that situation certainly helped to drive home the need to reevaluate the current base structure in Europe, Hutchison said.
Host nation “support for bases is a legitimate part” of the U.S. base strategy, Hutchison said.
The Pentagon does not need Congressional permission to close or move overseas bases, which are established by treaties with foreign partners. But Congress is preparing for another bloody round of U.S. base closing decisions in 2005, known as the BRAC, or Base Realignment and Closure process.
Since base closings overseas may affect bases in the States, Hutchison said, “before we decide what bases should stay open and what should stay closed in the United States,” senators want to have an independent grasp of the situation overseas.
The commission will last for one year, include eight Congressionally appointed members and be completed in time for the opening of the 2005 BRAC process, Hutchison said.
Pentagon leaders, meanwhile, took new steps Monday to accelerate the overseas base realignment process by submitting a budget amendment to the White House that proposes to rescind, cut or realign more than $500 million in fiscal 2003 and 2004 overseas construction spending.
In testimony Tuesday before Hutchison’s subcommittee, Marine Gen. James Jones Jr., the new head of U.S. European Command, said that EUCOM does not want to spend construction money in the short run on any base that may end up getting closed in the long run.
EUCOM’s portion of the amended budget request reduces the number of requested construction projects from 50 to 37, and shaves $164.20 million from the original request.
The savings aren’t as dramatic as they appear, however, because the command also used the new budget submission to add five new projects, with a total value of $57.9 million.
Hutchison said she welcomed the amended submission.
“I don’t want to go forward with a military construction budget that is not current with our times,” Hutchison said.