Base Closings Now In Bush's Hands

President Bush now must decide whether to accept a commission's proposal to close or reorganize some U.S. military bases, reject the plan altogether or send it back for more work.

The nine-member Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission forwarded its final report to the president late Thursday after signing off on roughly 86 percent of what the Pentagon had recommended as it sought to save money by getting rid of extra space in the domestic military network.

That's on par with previous years, when commissions changed only about 15 percent of what the Pentagon proposed.

The report arrived at the White House only after the commission, in response to a federal judge's ruling, withdrew a recommendation that called for moving the 103rd Fighter Wing's jets from Connecticut's Bradley Air National Guard base to Massachusetts.

Connecticut was among a number of states that had gone to court seeking to stop the commission's plan.

More than 800 Army, Navy and Air Force facilities across the country will grow, shrink or close under the commission-amended proposal.

In May, the Pentagon had recommended closing 33 major bases. The panel approved 21 of those closures, but proposed scaling back forces at seven of those bases rather than shutting the doors entirely. In the most high-profile decisions, the panel decided to keep open five major bases the Pentagon wanted to scrap.

Copies of the report were being delivered Friday morning to Congress and the Defense Department.

Last month, the president, invoking the commission's nickname, told reporters: "in order for the process to be nonpolitical, it's very important to make it clear that the decision of BRAC will stand, as far as I am concerned."

But Mr. Bush still could reject the report altogether or send it back to the commission for more changes, although either of those options would open him up to criticism when his poll numbers are low and his administration is taking heat for its response to Hurricane Katrina.

Last week, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld expressed reservations about the panel's decisions to keep several major bases open and said he was uncertain whether he would recommend that the president accept the proposed closures as modified by the commission.


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