Military Base Closings

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MILITARY BASE CLOSINGS. By the late 1980s the United States had approximately 3,800 military installations with in its borders, including army forts, navy and air force bases, and federally owned supply depots and building and repair facilities. Many of these had been established less to meet military needs than as a matter of national politics, because members of Congress regarded the establishment of a military base with in their state or district as a way of attracting federal money and jobs, and a way of creating additional employment for those who provided services for the base's population.

In the late 1980s this protective attitude toward bases started to change. The conclusion of the Cold War, with the collapse of both the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union, ended a major threat to U.S. national security. A mounting federal budget deficit and a desire to redirect federal spending into domestic programs reinforced arguments favoring cuts in national defense spending. As a consequence, military base closings began, along with reductions in military personnel and weapons. Congress chose neither to allow the president or the Department of Defense to decide which bases to close nor to make such decisions itself. Instead, it voted in 1988 to create an independent, bipartisan advisory commission to the Pentagon to propose lists of bases for closure. The secretary of defense would announce the proposed list, and, provided Congress did not reject it with in forty-five legislative days, the schedule for closings would become official. Congress established and authorized the actions of three subsequent defense base closure and realignment commissions in 1991, 1993, and 1995. While some bases ceased their operations entirely, others actually grew through realignment or the shifting of personnel and functions among installations.

In 1989 Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci announced, and Congress accepted, the first commission's list. This list targeted eighty-six bases for closure, five for partial closure, and fifty-four for realignment. The bases had at least four years advance notice, except for Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire, which closed in 1991. In 1990, Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney announced a second list of proposed base closings without relying on a commission. This caused an outcry in Congress, where the Democratic majority believed that the list contained too many bases in states or districts represented by Democrats. The chair of the House Armed Services Committee, Les Aspin of Wisconsin, recommended that a second commission propose another list, and in October 1990 Congress approved the creation of such a commission. In 1991 the commission presented its list, which called for the closure of thirty-four bases and the realignment of another forty-eight. Congress accepted these recommendations and stated that the secretary of defense must consider closing overseas bases as well.

Even though Congress had created the commission format, some senators and representatives were concerned about the impact of these closures on their particular state and local economies. Legislators from the Philadelphia area who opposed the closing of that city's naval shipyard, for example, turned to the federal courts to determine whether base closure decisions should be subject to judicial review. In May 1994, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled against this idea.

The 1993 commission faced similar difficulties. Concerned about the loss of jobs and the economic impact of base closures on communities and states, Congress closely scrutinized the proposed list. Aspin, now secretary of defense, rebutted allegations that some of the closings were politically motivated. The third list affected 175 military installations, with some thirty major U.S. bases to be closed, twelve other major bases subject to realignment, and additional smaller bases being closed, realigned, or relocated. Congress accepted the list in 1993. In June 1995, the commission recommended closing seventy-nine bases and realigning twenty-six others. Although President Bill Clinton expressed strong concern about the economic impact of base closings in Texas and California, he approved the recommendations in July. Later that month, the House National Security Committee rejected legislation that, if accepted, would have overturned the recommendations.

Base closings in themselves did not substantially reduce the annual defense budget. For example, closures announced in 1991 would save about $1.5 billion annually after 1997, and the 1993 list would save about $2.3 billion annually after 1999. It was more difficult to estimate the effects of base closings on local economies. States such as California, with more than 300,000 people employed at sixty-seven bases in 1991, felt the loss of jobs and income disproportionately. Including all base closures through the 1995 recommendations, Senator Diane Feinstein of California estimated that 108,900 Californians employed at these bases would lose their jobs. Evidence suggested, however, that base closings did not affect communities as seriously as lay offs in the defense industry because military bases tended not to be as integrated into local economies as defense manufacturing concerns. Many communities even hoped to benefit from base closings by acquiring the land once occupied by bases, although federal regulations often slowed up this process. A greater problem in this regard was perhaps the serious environ-mental hazards at military installations that the extensive storage of solvents, fuels, and explosives posed. In the 1990s the cleanup of such hazards depended on the availability of federal funding. President George W. Bush's administration proposed a round of base closings in 2001 that would have reduced active-duty military by another 60,000 persons, only a modest decrease compared to the decline in active-duty personnel of 600,000 since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. However, these plans were scuttled by the September 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, which strengthened the hand of those hoping to slow the pace of post–Cold War demobilization. In December 2001 Congress agreed to delay any further consideration of base closings and realignments until 2005.


Mayer, Andrew C., and George H. Siehl. Military Base Closures: Issues for the 104th Congress. Washington, D.C.: Penny Hill Press, 1995.

U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment. After the Cold War: Living with Lower Defense Spending. OTA-ITE-524. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1992.

Wallensteen, Peter, ed. Experiences in Disarmament: On Conversion of Military Industry and Closing of Military Bases. Uppsala, Sweden: Uppsala University, 1978.

Kenneth B.Moss/c. w.

See alsoAir Force, United States ; Army, United States ; Marine Corps, United States ; Navy, United States ; Unemployment .