WASHINGTON -- Nervous lawmakers made last-ditch efforts yesterday to keep their local military facilities off a list of more than 30 bases that are expected to be recommended today for closure or consolidation in a Pentagon budget-pruning move.
Defense Secretary Dick Cheney is scheduled to announce his recommendations at a news conference -- the first step in a four-part process to bring the number of U.S. bases in line with troop cuts.
Representative Vic Fazio, D-Calif., said yesterday that he expected the Sacramento Army Depot, which employs 3,700 workers in his district, to be among the facilities earmarked for shutdown.
Other bases likely to be on the hit list, according to published reports, are Fort Ord, Calif.; Fort McClellan, Ala.; the Alameda (Calif.) Naval Air Station; the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard; Bergstrom Air Force Base at Austin, Texas; and the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station in Washington state.
A House Armed Services Committee staffer said yesterday that Mr. Cheney had yet to sign off on the list and that changes were expected up until late last night.
Members of the Maryland congressional delegation were concerned that the recommendations -- which are expected to slate the Defense Department's research-and-development laboratories for consolidation -- could target some Maryland facilities.
The David Taylor Research Center, the principal center for research and development of naval vehicles, is one of nine Navy labs officials have said is a strong contender for closure or realignment. The center employs 2,500 -- nearly all civilians -- in Bethesda and Annapolis.
Maryland lawmakers wrote to Navy Secretary H. Lawrence Garrett III in February, lauding the research center, but have yet to hear whether it will be spared. "I have a gut feeling we're not going to get devastated," said Representative Beverly B. Byron, D-6th, whose district includes the center's Bethesda site.
Legislators throughout the country are speculating what effect the loss of military facilities will have on local economies.
"There are a lot of very worried people," said Shawn Hanson, press secretary for Representative Al Swift, D-Wash., who has received phone calls from the local mayor and chamber of commerce about the fate of the Whidbey Island air station.
Yesterday, the congressman stressed the benefits of the facility to Secretary Garrett, who would neither confirm nor deny that the air station was on the list. "They're just holding their cards close to their vest," said Ms. Hanson, although the congressman's office expects the 9,000-employee station to be marked for closure.
"This is a better-kept secret than the start of the [Persian Gulf] ground war," said Bob LeGrand, a spokesman for Representative Dean Gallo, R-N.J., whose district's Picatinny Arsenal, with 5,200 civilian employees, is a possible candidate for consolidation. "There have been rumors both ways."
Following today's announcement, the list of bases will be sent to the independent Base Closure and Realignment Commission, an eight-member group appointed by President Bush.
The commission can make additions or deletions before it submits the list to the president by July 1.
"The release of this list is not necessarily the end of the game," said Mr. Fazio, a comment likely to be echoed by other lawmakers as they prepare to take their cases to the bipartisan commission.
The commission will submit its list to the president, who can either reject it or submit it unchanged to Congress. Lawmakers will then have 45 days to accept or reject it in its entirety.
Meanwhile yesterday, the Pentagon lifted a 14-month freeze on $6.7 billion in construction projects at U.S. bases worldwide but installed tight new controls on such projects to comply with future budget cuts.
Defense Department spokesman Pete Williams told reporters that a tight rein would be kept on construction spending in the future.