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Decision on 2013 base closings to be delayed

The Dayton Daily News will continue to bring you the latest as defense cuts are debated and investigate how those decisions impact our region.

The Obama administration, after initially asking Congress for permission to consider whether to close military installations as part of defense spending cuts in upcoming years, now says it isn’t recommending any base closings in 2013.

Congress hasn’t granted authority for any new rounds of the base realignment and closure (BRAC) process. And President Obama is making it clear that he thinks this isn’t the time to be closing bases, as the U.S. economy struggles to recover and unemployment remains a prominent problem.

On Jan. 26, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta previewed the president’s 2013 defense budget proposal that was released the following month by saying: “The president will request the Congress to authorize use of the base realignment and closure process — so-called BRAC process — with the goal of identifying additional savings and implementing them as soon as possible.”

Asked by a reporter at the Pentagon whether that could mean a new round of base closures, Panetta replied: “It’s a fundamental problem we have to confront. As we draw down the force, we’ve got to take a look at the infrastructure that’s supporting the remaining force. And the reality is that we are going to have to be able to reduce that infrastructure.”

Panetta said the budget envisions gradually reducing the Army, to active-duty totals of 490,000 from the present 562,000, and the Marine Corps to 182,000, down from the current 202,000.

Last month, in an interview with Portsmouth, Va., television station WAVY, which covers the Norfolk area and its Navy base, Obama was asked if he would support another round of BRAC base closures.

“I don’t think now is the time for BRAC,” Obama said. “We just went through some base closings, and the strategy that we have does not call for that.”

The nation just completed its 2005 BRAC process in 2011. That brought new programs and a net gain of about 1,200 jobs to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, while bases in other parts of the country were either closed or saw some of their programs relocated elsewhere. The Ohio Air National Guard base at Springfield lost its mission flying F-16 fighter aircraft, but was awarded a mission for remote piloting of MQ-1 Predator drones.

“Although we asked Congress for the authority to do another BRAC round in 2013 (also 2015), it is clear now that Congress is not going to give us that authority this year,” Lt. Col. Melinda Morgan, a Defense Department spokeswoman, wrote in an email response to questions from the Dayton Daily News. “Neither the House nor Senate voiced support for a 2013 BRAC round.

“We knew it would be difficult,” Morgan wrote. “That is part of the reason we did not build BRAC savings (or costs) into our budget prediction. It would not have been prudent to plan for BRAC in the near term.”

Obama has not called for any base closings in 2013, said a White House press office spokeswoman, who agreed to speak only on the condition she not be identified.

The White House and Congress have committed to cut defense spending by $487 billion during the next 10 years. There could also be $500 billion in additional defense spending reductions, beginning in January 2013, unless Congress and the Obama administration agree before then on a plan to avoid automatic spending cuts to reduce the federal budget deficit.

The Pentagon has said the additional cuts would be devastating to defense preparedness.

Mitt Romney, the presumed Republican presidential nominee, has made no mention of base closings in his blueprint for defense spending. According to his campaign’s website, Romney’s defense plan includes modernizing the the aging inventories of the Army, Air Force and Marines and increasing the rate of Navy shipbuilding. He said he would save money by reducing the Defense Department’s administrative bureaucracy, promoting greater competition in military procurement and imposing more discipline in the design and deployment of new weapons.

Although no military program can be considered untouchable as Washington identifies budget areas to cut, Wright-Patterson is regarded as a key installation. During a visit to the Dayton area in July, Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, the Air Force chief of staff, described the base as a “vitally important institution in our Air Force.”

Still, Schwartz cautioned that he could not predict how budget cuts might affect Wright-Patterson, Ohio’s largest single-site employer with about 27,000 employees and a $5 billion annual economic impact on the Dayton region.

In September 2011, Wright-Patterson finished absorbing aerospace medicine and additional sensors research missions under changes ordered by the nation’s 2005 BRAC process. The reorganization was designed to consolidate expertise and create “centers of excellence” at bases including Wright-Patterson, which is the hub of Air Force acquisition, logistics, research and development, and post-graduate defense education programs.