Base closure method illegal, senator says

Claims bolster case to save Cleveland DFAS

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Becky GaylordPlain Dealer Reporter

An architect of the law creating the Pentagon base closure process contends the Defense Department acted illegally when weighing whether to close some facilities, including a huge Cleveland military pay office.

Sen. John Warner of Virginia says the Pentagon incorrectly docked points from operations that lease their office space. The Cleveland office of the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, where 1,200 people work, leases 14 floors in the Federal Office Building at East Ninth Street and Lakeside Avenue.

The issue is crucial for Cleveland DFAS supporters because the best way to get an office off the Pentagon's hit list is to show that the Defense Department deviated significantly from the law.

Warner's credibility as a critic is high: He helped draft legislation that created the Base Re- alignment and Closure Committee, and the Republican chairs the Senate's Armed Services Committee.

Local politicians and community leaders have criticized the plan to dismantle Cleveland DFAS as flawed and a waste of taxpayer money.

New information released by U.S. Rep. Steve LaTourette this week shows that by some crucial measures, Cleveland's office matches or beats the three DFAS centers scheduled to gain thousands of workers through the Pentagon's base closure plan.

Cleveland's DFAS would lose more than 90 percent of its highly paid workers under the plan, which would shutter or shrink military facilities in every state.

Leased military offices in Warner's state also are on the hit list.

"The goal to vacate leased office space was the guiding principle for many of these recommendations - not military value, cost savings or any other legislated criteria," Warner testified before the Base Realignment and Closure Commission late last week. "This is not permitted by law."

LaTourette says Warner's testimony is "more than significant. I think it's huge." It adds to mounting evidence favoring DFAS Cleveland.

"The weight has swung over to Cleveland's side," said LaTourette, a Republican from Concord Township.

He draws some confidence from a recent letter that Anthony Principi, chairman of the base closure panel, sent Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld asking whether keeping DFAS facilities open in Columbus, Indianapolis and Denver, while closing all others, was the only option considered.

DFAS Cleveland's supporters will plead their case today with the base closure commission's chief staff analyst, Marilyn Wasleski.

One argument will be that the Pentagon grossly overstated rent paid for the Cleveland office. The rate the Defense Department used is 50 percent higher than the rent actually charged, according to information given to LaTourette by the General Services Administration, DFAS' landlord.

The flawed figures made Cleveland's rental costs appear to be the most expensive of all 26 DFAS sites. Operating costs represent one-third of the points the Defense Department used to rank bases to close.

"The fact that the Department of Defense can't get their facts correct in assessing the rent is one reason why DoD's recommendation to move over 1,000 jobs out of Cleveland DFAS needs to be reconsidered," Ohio Sen. George Voinovich said in a statement Tuesday.

Cleveland came out on top in other areas, too, the data from LaTourette's office show. Cleveland DFAS can fill vacancies in less than 10 days - more quickly than the three DFAS sites that would gain workers.

Other discrepancies LaTourette pointed out include the Defense Department's anti-terrorism standards. DFAS Cleveland does not meet them and got downgraded for it. Yet those standards don't take effect until 2009, and the federal office that houses DFAS is scheduled to undergo a $30 million modernization by then. LaTourette believes some of that money would address the anti-terrorism standards.

In previous base closure rounds, about one in 10 of the offices initially targeted by the Defense Department got taken off the list by the base closure commission.

The panel must give its recommendations to President Bush by Sept. 8.