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BRAC’s Blunders
Column by Sen. Trent Lott

            A recent admission that there was a “math error” in calculating the military value of Keesler Air Force Base’s hospital, targeted for closure by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC), presents the latest example of why using a base realignment commission in lieu of Congress to evaluate military bases is a flawed, inefficient process.  This error is good news for Keesler, and other BRAC blunders could spell even better news for Meridian’s 186th Air National Guard Refueling wing and for Naval Station Pascagoula.

The “Math Error:”  BRAC put Keesler’s hospital on its hit list back in May.  BRAC’s proposal is to water down Keesler’s hospital from a full-service facility to an outpatient clinic.  But on July 12, the Air Force admitted a mathematical error when calculating the facility’s military value, thrusting the hospital higher in ranking than 44 other targeted installations.

Does this mean Keesler hospital and the people and community depending on it will escape BRAC’s knife?  No, but it could make a big difference.  It’s the latest in a series of developments clearly showing that BRAC itself actually could be more inefficient and unneeded than the very installations it targets.  In fact, this error was found not by anyone associated with BRAC, but by Congressman Gene Taylor’s staff assistant, Brian Martin, who should be recognized for his excellent work.

Needing a Place to Go:  You may recall that last year, I put forward a bill that would have compelled BRAC to first target overseas military bases, especially old Cold War-era bases in Europe.  Like many Americans, I don’t see why we, in the midst of a war, are closing domestic installations when we still have heavy armored divisions in Europe apparently awaiting an invasion from a nation –  the Soviet Union – which collapsed 15 years ago.  My measure failed by just two votes.  I warned that America would have to eventually reshuffle our overseas military assets, bringing some home.  When we do, we’ll have to have a place to put them.  Obviously we’ll need our domestic bases for that purpose.

11th Hour Changes:  Fast forward to May 2005, and we have Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld – at the 11th hour before release of the BRAC closure list – announcing he didn’t think we had as much excess base capacity as previously calculated and that the proposed realignments would be scaled back far less than previously slated.  He also talked about the need for our domestic installations to absorb assets coming back from overseas bases.  Sound familiar?

States snubbed:  Then on top of the math error and the admitted excess capacity miscalculation, there’s also the question of whether the Department of Defense (DOD) and BRAC can legally target National Guard installations, as they have the Meridian 186th, without input from the Governor.  Remember, National Guard bases and the guard units themselves are state-run entities.  The governor activates guard units, and his adjutant general commands and administers them.  We’re waiting to see how this legal question plays out, but I think the already outstanding Meridian unit can prove its worth outside of this question.  Yet again, this is another indication of how questionable, disorganized and confusing the BRAC process is.

Homeland Insecurity:  Finally, DOD and BRAC now have yet another contradiction which has many Americans scratching our heads.  On the one hand, DOD says homeland security is now its top priority.  Yet BRAC has targeted for closure Naval Station Pascagoula –  one of very few Gulf of Mexico bases –  a move that would leave unprotected 60 percent of our nation’s shipping and most of our busiest ports.  That sounds more like a recipe for homeland insecurity.  With the Keesler “math error,” the 11th hour scaleback, and the questions about States’ roles in the closure process, it seems someone has again seriously miscalculated, and we need to make correction.

At BRAC’s regional hearing in New Orleans on July 22, the communities of Pascagoula,Meridian, Biloxi and Stennis Space Center made impressive and convincing presentations on why our base should remain.  Like our Congressional delegation, these communities know BRAC’s blunders too well, having successfully fended off BRAC many times in past rounds.  Amid all the miscalculations and contradictions, the 2005 BRAC round ought to leave us with one clear conclusion – the only thing needing realignment, or better yet, closure, is the Base Realignment and Closure Commission itself.

  (7/29/05)


Senator Lott welcomes any questions or comments about this column. 

Write to: U.S. Senator Trent Lott, 487 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510 (Attn: Press Office) or Email: senatorlott@lott.senate.gov

Editor's Note: GCN publishes Sen. Trent Lott's column with no editing or copy changes.

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