Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Collins presses Pentagon for data

By BART JANSEN Washington Correspondent,

Copyright © 2005 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

WASHINGTON U.S. Sen. Susan Collins threatened on Tuesday to subpoena hundreds of documents about proposed military base closures after the Defense Department failed again to turn the data over to Congress. The Maine Republican escalated her rhetoric because the state's congressional delegation considers the documents essential for challenging the Pentagon's recommendations to close the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery and cut the military contingent in half at the Brunswick Naval Air Station.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Navy Secretary Gordon England promised last week to deliver the documents by last Friday. They had not arrived as of Tuesday, and a call to the Pentagon seeking an explanation went unanswered.

The documents are important to lawmakers and community activists who are aiming to preserve the bases because members of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission are scheduled to visit Portsmouth and Brunswick next week.

The commission will make the final recommendation on which bases to close.

Collins' subpoena threat is significant because it increases the potential for a confrontation between the legislative and executive branches over what information governing base closures must be released.

Previous attempts by Congress to obtain documents from the White House, on the subject of energy policy, met with resistance that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"If necessary, I'm prepared to use the power that I have as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee to subpoena these documents," Collins said. "I hope it won't come to that. It would be very unfortunate if I felt forced to subpoena executive branch documents. But we must have this to make our case."

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said she is drafting legislation to halt this round of military base closures if the Pentagon doesn't produce the documents.

"I think it's a disservice to the people of Maine and the people of this country. It's unconscionable," Snowe said. "We're demanding it. It's a serious issue here. They're not turning over these documents. They're dragging their feet because they can keep the clock ticking."

Under Rumsfeld's recommendations, Portsmouth stands to lose 4,510 jobs as its functions are sent to Norfolk, Va.

Brunswick would lose 2,420 jobs - about half of its military work force - as its planes are moved to Jacksonville, Fla.

Other closures would cost the state 354 jobs at the Defense Finance and Accounting Service in Limestone and seven jobs at the Naval Reserve Center in Bangor.

U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a Maine Democrat, submitted his own legislation Tuesday to try to block the closure of the Limestone accounting center.

Nationwide, the Pentagon proposes closing 33 major military bases and realigning hundreds of others.

It was unclear when the Pentagon planned to release the documents, which contain detailed analyses, so-called Cobra studies, of costs and advantages of shifting military people and services from one base to another.

Elected officials from states that are affected by the proposed closings hope to use the documents to poke holes in the Defense Department's rationale and overturn the recommended closings.

Maine's and New Hampshire's congressional delegations are scheduled to meet Friday with Anthony Principi, the chairman of the nine-member commission that is reviewing Rumsfeld's recommendations.

Gov. John Baldacci said Tuesday that he and New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch will attend that meeting.

Baldacci joined Collins and Snowe in condemning the Pentagon's failure to provide the supporting documents in a timely manner, saying the Pentagon has released essential data in "very limited dribs and drabs."

"This really is not a model process," Baldacci said during a news conference at the State House in Augusta. "The flaws have been showing up from the beginning."

The commission must give its final list to President Bush by Sept. 8. Bush and Congress can then either accept or reject the list in its entirety.

Collins said her military aide is visiting the shipyard and is expected to bring back a binder of documentation. But she argued that much more is needed.

"I feel very firmly that the law is crystal clear that we're entitled to all the information - I reviewed the law again this morning - and that it's simply unfair for the Pentagon to be slow in turning this over," Collins said. "I hope that it will be turned over voluntarily, but if it isn't, I'm willing to consider the next step."

Baldacci said he is urging Maine's 148,000 veterans to fight the Maine recommendations by launching a campaign of letters, telephone calls and e-mails.

"We need to attack these base closures on every front," Baldacci said.

- Staff Writer Paul Carrier