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Congressional Panel Moves To HaltSecond Round of Base Closings

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Washington--House and Senate conferees have moved to halt the second round of scheduled military-base closings, sending school districts that may be affected into limbo.

The conference committee's decision is included in its agreement on H R 4739, the Department of Defense authorization bill for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

Under the agreement, the conferees decided to block the second round of closings until the department offers written criteria on which to make closure decisions, the department submits a plan for the size and scope of the armed forces, and an independent commission is established to review the department's closure decisions.

Bases already scheduled to close under the first round would not be affected. The first round of 91 base closures was announced in 1988 by a bipartisan commission that was later disbanded.

Conferees included the measure to remove "suspicions about the integrity of the base-closure-selection process," according to the committee's report.

Democratic members cried foul when Secretary of Defense Richard B. Cheney announced on Jan. 29 that a number of U.S. military bases would be studied for possible closure.

The closing of a vast majority of the bases, the Democrats said, would financially imperil cities and towns--and their school districts--in Democrat-controlled districts. In addition, they said, it was unfair for Mr. Cheney and President Bush, who was to include a final list of second-round closures in his fiscal 1992 budget, to make the decisions unilaterally.

More than 50 domestic bases were under consideration for closure or realignment under round two.

"The communities are not real happy," said Helen Hines, an economic analyst with the Defense Department who works with populations affected by base closures. "They're on the list, and they're off the list. It's a hell of a way to do business."

New Scrutiny Sought

School districts that educate children of military families receive federal compensation because those districts receive fewer local tax dollars. The nation's economy, the escalating military buildup in the Middle East--the destination of some war planes scheduled to be phased out as part of the base-closure plan--and the re-examination of the size and mission of the military would affect how many bases are nominated for closure under the new process, Ms. Hines said.

If the conference agreement is adopted by the full Congress as expected, a new list of base closures would probably not be ready until October 1992, she added.

The commission would then report to the President, who would either accept or reject the commission's report. If accepted, the Congress would then review the report.
Officials have said that the process of closing bases identified in the first round has proceeded more slowly than expected. Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth, N.H., is the only base that has started closing down.

Round-one closings are targeted for completion by 1995.

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