Originally created 02/04/05

Report studies bases as one entity



ATLANTA - In defending Georgia's 13 military installations against the possibility of closure, state officials think they have a secret weapon: a report that turns upside down the criteria for the base evaluation being used by the Pentagon.

The Bush administration convinced Congress to authorize an evaluation of all installations to determine how to close a quarter of them as a way to save taxpayers' money. In accordance with the law, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld came up with the criteria to be used for that determination, which is ongoing and will result in a list of bases for the scrap yard.

Mr. Rumsfeld's goal is to get different service branches to work together. He instructed his staff to shut bases not instrumental in that effort.

Observers have interpreted that to mean that individual bases will be examined for how many cross-service operations they already perform, such as an Army base that houses Air Force units.

Rep. Jack Kingston, a Republican from Savannah, suggested looking at all Georgia bases along with those in South Carolina, Alabama and Florida and the expanse of air and water in the Gulf of Mexico. Members of the Georgia Military Affairs Coordinating Committee that reports to Gov. Sonny Perdue liked the suggestion and hired a consulting firm to conduct the study and produce a report.

The idea is that bases in those states are so close that they should be considered almost as a single entity. That way, one base's weakness might be overcome by another base an hour or two away. And all would have access to joint maneuvers in the gulf.

If the Navy Supply Corps School in Athens doesn't appear to have enough interactions with other branches, it's a short drive to Augusta's Army's Signal School at Fort Gordon. And if Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay at St. Marys might not appear to have sufficient cross-service operations, consider it in conjunction with Albany's Marine Corps Logistics Base.

The Joint Interdependency Study that Burdeshaw and Associates produced last fall has been making the rounds in Washington, and boosters of Georgia bases think it may influence some of the critical decision makers at the Pentagon.

"It has really gotten the attention of some of the (Defense Department) folks because it's about what Rumsfeld is talking about," said Bob Hurt, a former Senate aide who is now a principal in the Washington consulting firm Hurt, Norton & Associates that the state hired to oversee its base-defense lobbying effort.

Not everyone is so impressed.

Ken Beeks, the spokesman for the Washington-based Business Executives for National Security, said every state and every community commission studies to defend their bases.

He acknowledges he hasn't read the Kingston study.

"It's a waste of time anyway," he said.

Most local studies are never read, he said, because there are so many and because the military has its own sources of information that it considers more credible and less biased.

Georgia officials say this one is different.

Mr. Kingston's spokeswoman Jennifer Haing said the congressman, whose district includes five installations, distributed the report to key insiders.

"The people that we're thinking of are the right kind of people to be talking to," she said.

The reasoning in the report is designed to alter the equation while providing ammunition to supporters of the region's bases inside the Pentagon and beyond. It will form a cornerstone of any campaign necessary should one of the bases wind up on the proposed hit list when it become public in May.

Data for the Department of Defense's in-house evaluations has been collected, which makes it too late for others to copy the tactic. Few regions would be as fruitful with a rich mix of services already represented, experts say.

As a region, the South has fared better in the four previous rounds of base closure and realignment, according to an analysis by the Northeast-Midwest Institute. During those rounds, from 1988-1995, the South housed 46 percent of the military's and civilian personnel but only represented 21 percent of the reductions.

While some experts say the South is due for disproportionate cuts in this round, the conclusion of the Kingston study is that the concentration of bases and personnel there makes it more valuable and therefore less vulnerable to the budget ax.

Reach Walter Jones at (404) 589-8424 or walter.jones@morris.com.