WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Dick Cheney recommended yesterday closing 31 major military bases, ranging from Fort Dix in New Jersey to Fort Ord in California, shutting down 12 minor facilities and reducing forces at 28 others in a cost-cutting move that furious lawmakers vowed to fight.
"I think it's a good package; we've worked very hard on it," Mr. Cheney said in releasing the list. "By 1995, the number of people in the U.S. military will be about one-fourth smaller than it is today. Smaller forces need fewer bases. It's as simple as that."
Mr. Cheney estimated the cost of closing the bases over the next six years at $5.7 billion, while he put savings from reduced operations during the period at $6.5 billion, for a net gain of $850 million. The sale of federal land valued at $1.9 million could increase the dividend.
The process now moves to the Base Closure and Realignment Commission, a bipartisan, eight-member panel headed by former Representative Jim Courter, R-N.J. The commission is required to conduct public hearings on the recommendations and can either delete or add facilities to the list.
The commission also will receive a report from the General Accounting Office, Congress' watchdog arm, with a detailed analysis of the defense secretary's recommendations. The panel must submit its recommendations to President Bush by July 1.
By July 15, the president must either approve or disapprove its actions. If Mr. Bush rejects the panel's advice, the commission must revise its list and forward it to the president by Aug. 15.
Should the list be approved, it will be forwarded to Congress, which has 45 days to accept or reject it in its entirety.
The major sites slated for closing include Fort Ord, home of the Army's 7th Infantry Division, which would move to Fort Lewis, Wash.; Fort Dix, the New Jersey Army base that has been on semi-active status since 1988; the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard; Whidbey Island Naval Air Station in Washington; and Bergs trom Air Force Base in Texas.
Under the recommendations, California would lose 26,869 military and civilian jobs, while Florida would lose 18,850 and Pennsylvania 12,943.
Lawmakers, fearing the loss of local jobs and contracts, appealed to Mr. Cheney up until the last minute to spare their states and districts.
Mr. Cheney said yesterday he had made no changes to the facilities list compiled by the four services. He did, however, delete an Army recommendation that the Corps of Engineers be added to the list, explaining that separate legislation would deal with the corps.
Shortly after the recommendations were released, legislators went on the attack, calling the list a partisan attack on Democratic districts and vowing to take their cases to the base closure commission.
"The Pentagon's recommendation is unwise, unfair and unacceptable," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., whose last-minute appeals to Mr. Cheney failed to keep Fort Devens in Western Massachusetts off the closure list. "I intend to work with other members in our delegation to do all we can to see that the new base closure commission reverses it."
"I don't know what those people are thinking about, but it almost looks like the Democratic strongholds have been hit the worst," said Representative Joe Moakley, D-Mass.
Besides Fort Devens, Mr. Moakley noted there were recommended closures in Washington, home of House Speaker Thomas S. Foley; Pennsylvania, the state of House Democratic Whip William H. Gray III, and California, home to Representative Vic Fazio, head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Mr. Fazio, whose district is scheduled to lose the Sacramento Army Depot, has also said he plans to appeal the closure to the commission.
But the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Representative Les Aspin, D-Wis., disagreed, saying that the proportion of bases in Republican and Democratic districts "is close to even."
Mr. Cheney denied yesterday that there was any political motivation behind the closure list. He called the charge "goofy." "We did not look at it from a partisan perspective," he said. "This is a sincere effort to cut our overhead."
The defense secretary said the decisions were made on the basis of criteria ranging from the relative importance of a base's military mission to the economic impact its closure would have on a community. He said that he had "enormous sympathy" for the communities affected by closures, but that cuts had to be made.
The American Federation of Government Employees -- representing 700,000 federal workers -- urged Congress and the Bush administration to provide assistance for military base workers, ranging from retraining to relocation expenses.