Oklahoma congressmen say base closings holding up defense authorization bill

Tuesday, November 27th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ An Oklahoma congressman serving on a conference committee appointed to write a defense authorization bill said differences over possible military base closings are holding up progress.

Leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees ``appear to be deadlocked over the issue of authority for base closure,'' Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Okla., told The Daily Oklahoman's Washington bureau on Monday.

The measure has been in conference since early October. It would set spending levels and outline some congressional priorities for policy but not make direct appropriations.

The Senate bill called for another round of closures in 2003, but House members didn't include the issue in their version. The last round of base closures was in 1995.

There is a conflict between Pentagon officials who want control the military and lawmakers who are concerned about the jobs the military bases provide in their districts.

Watts said members of the conference committee couldn't resolve the matter and left it up to the top leaders of each Armed Services panel. But they have not been willing to compromise.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sent a letter to committee leaders threatening to recommend a veto of the bill if it doesn't include permission for base closures.

``. . . continuing to operate and maintain facilities we simply no longer need is unfair to the taxpayer and diverts resources that would be better applied to our warfighters,'' the letter read. ``The Joint Chiefs of Staff share this view, as does every one of my living predecessors.''

Gary Hoitsma, a spokesman for Sen. Jim Inhofe, who also served on the conference committee, said Rumsfeld's letter has not accomplished the secretary's goal. Inhofe opposes base closures.

``I don't sense that he's changed anybody's position,'' Hoitsma said. ``The forces have stayed aligned where they were.''

House members on the conference committee are against another round, while the senators are divided even though the Senate approved another round, he said.

Senators with reservations are concerned about the upfront costs of closures at a time when the country is at war and already having readiness problems and shortfalls in modernization accounts, Hoitsma said.

Oklahoma has five military installations: Tinker Air Force Base in Midwest City, Fort Sill Army Post in Lawton, Altus Air Force Base in Altus, Vance Air Force Base in Enid and the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant in McAlester.

The case for base closures must be clearer, Watts said.

``Savings from previous rounds have simply not produced the savings its backers promised,'' Watts said. ``I remain committed to a strong national defense, particularly in this time, but that does not necessarily require another round of base closures.''