Mo. officials challenge base closures

Congressional delegation begins the fight to save military-related jobs.
Tuesday, May 17, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:01 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 14, 2008

WASHINGTON — Missouri’s congressional delegation has begun its long-shot fight to save a few thousand jobs targeted in the latest round of military closures and realignments.

Sen. Kit Bond met late Monday afternoon with Anthony Principi, chairman of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, to complain about the Pentagon’s plan to move the Missouri Air National Guard’s 131st Fighter Wing out of Lambert Airport in St. Louis. The shift would cost about 250 military and civilian jobs and $135 million in economic impact to the region.

“This plan allows regional homeland security to fall victim to Pentagon bean counters,” said Bond, a Republican. “It makes no sense at all.”

In all, the state would lose nearly 3,700 jobs under the Pentagon’s plan, announced Friday, to close and consolidate more than a half dozen military installations and offices. Opponents now have until summer to convince the commission that some of those proposals should be reversed.

“This is just the beginning of the process,” Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., said Monday. “Now we need to look at the justifications and push very hard where the justifications are weak in an effort to reverse the recommendations.”

It won’t be easy. While job losses can devastate local communities, complaints about the economic ripples of military cutbacks aren’t enough.

“Communities that are looking at closures, if they are going to succeed in getting them off, have to make a compelling national security argument,” said Chris Hellman, a military policy analyst with the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington.

“They have to show there is a gaping error in the Defense Department’s logic when it comes to promoting U.S. security interests,” Hellman said.

That means the biggest job cut in the state — about 2,000 positions at the Army Human Resources Command in Overland that would move to Kentucky — likely won’t be reversed. The move is part of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s goal to reduce the military’s use of leased space.

With that in mind, lawmakers have focused initially on the decision to move the 131st Fighter Wing out of St. Louis. The effort began last Friday, with a letter to the commission, President Bush and the Department of Homeland Security.

“The Pentagon’s decision to eliminate the 131st Fighter Wing would create a dangerous vulnerability gap in homeland protection within America’s heartland,” said the letter signed by Gov. Matt Blunt and every member of the state’s congressional delegation.

The letter urged the commission to schedule a hearing in St. Louis to investigate those concerns.

But Missouri, like other states with facilities on Rumsfeld’s list, faces long odds in getting them off. In past base closure rounds, the commission has gone along with 85 percent of what the Pentagon recommended.

The commission must send its report to President Bush by Sept. 8. The president will review the report and order revisions if needed. Congress then has to accept or reject the report in its entirety. The closures and consolidations would occur over five years starting in 2006.

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