US Senator Jim Inhofe still looking for ways to stop base closings round

Tuesday, June 10th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LAWTON, Okla. (AP) _ A resolution to repeal the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Act (BRAC) of 1990 failed in the U.S. Senate, but Sen. Jim Inhofe is looking for other ways to stop another round of base closings.

Inhofe's fellow senators, including Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., voted 53-42 last week against House Resolution 1588.

U.S. Rep. Tom Cole believes the best approach is to try to limit the effects of the Base Realignment and Closure round, set for 2005.

Inhofe, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he doesn't see the point of having another round of base closings so soon.

``I have the feeling that nothing else may need to be closed,'' he told the Lawton Constitution.

Inhofe also said it also doesn't make sense to close bases in 2005 when ``we don't know what the force structure will look like. Quite frankly, the secretary of defense will not respond and tell us what it will look like,'' he said.

Inhofe said he'll pursue other avenues, including trying to amend the defense authorization bill in conference committee to eliminate BRAC.

Another approach might be discussions with Sen. Ted Stephens, R-Alaska, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee which will write the bill funding the national defense. Stephens voted with Inhofe on the BRAC amendment last week.

Inhofe said it's not often that he and Nickles disagree about legislation.

Nickles said there is excess capacity in the nation's military installations and it's important that every defense dollar be spent efficiently.

``Oklahoma's bases are well positioned to remain open and possibly benefit from another round of closures,'' he said. ``The less we spend keeping unnecessary bases open, the more we have to provide for a strong defense and America's war against terrorism.''

Cole said the next BRAC round is federal law, and ``nothing will do away with it for 2005.''

``We felt like our approach made more sense,'' he said.

The House amended its version of the defense authorization bill to affect the BRAC process by requiring the Pentagon to keep enough capacity to accommodate the force strength recommended by Dick Cheney and Colin Powell in 1992, Cole said.

It also required that before the BRAC round will begin, the Pentagon will name the bases it has no intention of closing under any circumstances, listing up to 50 percent of its basing capacity, Cole said.

State lawmakers have been preparing the state for the base closing round.

Gov. Brad Henry has signed into law House Bill 1396, which creates the Oklahoma Military Strategic Military Planning Commission. The commission will guide the state's response to the base closing process.

Under the measure, the state's five military communities (Lawton, Altus, Midwest City, Enid and McAlester) will be represented on the seven-member commission.

Senate Bill 138 appropriates $1.5 million to the commission.

State Rep. David Braddock, D-Altus, the author of HB 1396, said he envisioned using $250,000 of the money to hire a firm to assess Oklahoma's bases and giving $250,000 to each military community.