Thursday, May 12, 2005
The latest round of Base Realignment and Closures, called BRAC, may hit a little too close to home—again. The base closure list is expected to be released as early as May 13. With Monterey’s Naval Postgraduate School and, to a lesser degree, the Defense Language Institute potentially on the chopping block, many are asking, “What if?” What if either of Monterey’s historic installations appears on the Pentagon’s list for closure, or for “realignment,” shifting jobs around to share functions with other bases? More than 8,700 military personnel work in Monterey County. Losing any part of this workforce would be a tough economic blow.
Local power broker Leon Panetta, who also served as President Clinton’s Chief of Staff, is front and center in the battle to retain California’s military bases. As co-chair of Gov. Schwarzenegger’s California Council on Base Support and Retention, Panetta’s been working to help save the state’s military bases. In 1994, he witnessed first-hand the devastating aftermath of a BRAC here at home, at Fort Ord. When the base closed, 2,800 civilians lost their jobs, and 7,500 military families left town.
The Weekly recently caught up with Panetta to talk about the latest BRAC.
Weekly: Congressman Sam Farr said Congress expected this round of BRAC to be “the mother of all BRACs,” and most observers expect this to be the biggest, baddest BRAC ever. What do you expect to see?
Panetta: Mr. Rumsfeld said BRAC would affect 25 percent of 100 bases, now he’s pulling back and saying 10 to 12 percent. It essentially cuts that figure in half. If they are going to be returning troops back home, they have to place them in an installation. It’s encouraging news but no one should take false hope in that.
Weekly: You chair the Gov. Schwarzenegger-appointed council to help save California’s military bases in the upcoming BRAC round. What effect will this council have when it comes to saving bases locally and statewide?
Panetta: The purpose of the council was to inventory bases. What we did was go throughout the state and put together a report. That report essentially provides a review and lays out key arguments why these bases play key roles. Seven out of the 25 universities that do research and work with the military are in California. We see that here at NPS. If you close that, it’s not easily replicated.
Weekly: The Peninsula’s economy was devastated when Fort Ord closed. Comparatively, how would either a Navel Postgraduate School or a Defense Language Institute closure affect Monterey County?
Panetta: Fort Ord was a huge installation. It was one of the biggest [closures] of the last round, and represented 25 percent of the local economy. These base closures wouldn’t be that high, but the area would suffer. Communities here have learned their lesson. It’s an economic hit but an opportunity as well. They are working on the numbers for DLI and NPS, but statewide, military installations provide around 280,000 jobs and bring $42 billion to the economy, second only to the tourism industry. But if either is on the list, we think the most important thing is to review the report and see if the numbers used to evaluate each base were valid.
Weekly: With the focus on intelligence in winning the war on terrorism, wouldn’t it seem unlikely to close down the military’s primary language/intelligence institute?
Panetta: If they haven’t woken up to the importance of language by now, they’ll never get it. I think they’re realizing one of the weapons is understanding the enemy, language and culture.
Weekly: I’ve heard a “Plan B” exists for staff and faculty of NPS to keep them around and working. Do you have any information?
Panetta: The only thing I’ve heard is the idea of keeping it as an education site by rezoning, which is what they [Monterey City officials] are working on.
Weekly: The rumors are the latest base closures will be in “blue states,” and California has traditionally been hit hard by BRAC. Can you speak to the politics of BRAC?
Panetta: You hope that politics doesn’t play a role, but having been in the White House, I know that politics does count.
Weekly: How would realignment affect DLI or NPS?
Panetta: What you could do in both cases is make it a larger training installation. You could bring some of the [training programs from the US Army or US Navy] War College, and unify them here.
Weekly: President Bush has suggested the possibility of using closed military installations for areas of refining and storing oil. Is that possible?
Panetta: That’s a possibility for communities that already have refineries but a majority of California doesn’t have it and a majority of Californians don’t want it. Especially here along the coast, imagine the environmental issues involved with that.
Weekly: How likely is it that former bases around the Monterey Bay will get cleaned up, and is there a timeline?
Panetta: That’s always been the most difficult issue. Communities getting quick access to land is key. The worst example is Hunter’s Point in San Diego. It took 30 years to clean up. Fort Ord is still doing it. Congress is going to have to be innovative here to get the lands cleaned up for any community affected by base closure.