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Inside Politics

Senators demand Rumsfeld release base closing data


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TIMELINE

By September 8 -- After holding public hearings, visiting bases, collecting data and possibly making changes, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission gives its report of recommended base closures to President Bush.
By September 23 -- The president will accept or reject the list in its entirety.
45 days later -- Congress has that amount of time to reject the recommendations in their entirety, or they become binding.
Source: U.S. Defense Department, The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Two senators from New England have sent a letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld demanding the release of documents on proposed military base closures.

In a statement Saturday, Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joseph Lieberman, D-Connecticut, said the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs would subpoena the documents if necessary, including e-mails, memos, handwritten notes and telephone logs.

Collins is chairwoman of the committee, while Lieberman is the ranking member.

The senators represent states "disproportionately affected" by the proposed changes announced this month, their statement said.

The Pentagon has recommended that 33 major military bases in the nation be closed and forces at another 29 major bases be reduced. Officials have said the Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, process would save billions of dollars annually. (Full story)

The letter to Rumsfeld cites federal law requiring the release of supporting documents to Congress.

"Despite repeated requests from members of Congress, the department has thus far failed to make available to Congress this critical information," it says.

"The department's failure to disclose all of this information prevents Congress from conducting a thorough and meaningful review of those recommendations. ... The integrity of the base closure and realignment process depends on openness and transparency."

Collins and Lieberman said they want to investigate "for potential improprieties" in the decision-making process.

"The integrity of the BRAC process depends on the release of these documents," the senators said. "In addition, it is unfair to bases that have early visits from BRAC commissioners, such as those in Connecticut and Maine, to not have immediate data available to them."

The failure to turn over documents "undermines our confidence in the department's decision-making process and undoubtedly raises similar concerns across the American public," the letter to Rumsfeld says.

The senators also have written to President Bush, asking him to intervene and compel the Defense Department to release the documents.

Bush defended the proposed closures and realignment in an address Friday at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. He said the process is unfortunate but a necessary means of moving the military into the 21st century. (Full story)

"Supporting these facilities wastes billions of taxpayers' dollars," Bush said, adding that everything possible would be done to assure a smooth transition in the affected communities.

Bases on the chopping block include a Navy submarine base in New London, Connecticut, which would mean a loss of more than 8,000 jobs.

When the recommendations were announced May 13, Lieberman vowed to "fight shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the Connecticut delegation to reverse this wrongheaded decision and save the sub base."

A Naval shipyard in Portsmouth, Maine, also is slated for closure, and a Naval Air Station in Brunswick, Maine, would lose more than 400 personnel in the realignment.

The Pentagon's final report on the base closings is not due until September 8. Congress would have to sign off on the closings before November 7.


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