U.S. Senators Request Overhaul of Military Restructuring
FAIRBANKS — A bipartisan group of senators, including Alaska Senator Mark Begich, has asked the Department of Defense to create “an objective and transparent process” for restructuring its military forces in the coming fiscal year.
The request is tied to a plan released by the Pentagon in February that would realign military forces throughout the U.S., including changes at 60 installations in 35 states. Skeptics of the move say it was poorly conceived and didn’t properly consider financial costs or military readiness.
The restructuring effort includes a proposal to move an F-16 squadron from Eielson Air Force Base to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, located near Anchorage. The transfer, which has been hotly contested by members of Alaska’s congressional delegation and Fairbanks leaders, would result in the relocation of about half the 3,100 military and civilian jobs at Eielson.
The senators sent a letter Tuesday to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin and to the committee’s ranking Republican, Senator John McCain. The letter called for the Department of Defense to evaluate and report on the impact of the changes, saying “the lack of analysis and comprehensive and detailed information raises serious concerns about the affordability and feasibility of implementing many of the proposals.”
Begich, a member of the Armed Services Committee, was one of three Democrats who authored the letter, along with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), and Senator Mark Udall (D-Colorado). Ten other senators signed the request, including five Republicans and five Democrats.
A new process is needed to balance national security concerns with cost effectiveness and feasibility, according to the letter.
“The lack of an objective and transparent process for implementing restructuring and reductions has illustrated a need for greater clarity and improved oversight in such significant proposals,” the senators wrote.
Military leaders say the plan to move Eielson’s F-16 squadron will save $32 million over five years, but Begich and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), have complained that they’ve seen no data backing those figures.
Begich has been vocal in his frustration over a perceived lack of information backing the move. He vowed last month to hold up any nominations to military leadership posts until he received answers from the Department of Defense and has placed a hold on the promotion of Lieutenant General Herbert J. Carlisle, who is being considered for promotion to four-star general and commander of Pacific Air Forces.
Eielson’s future has been scrutinized since at least 2005, when Defense Department officials proposed removing all active-duty aircraft from the base. A process by the independent Base Realignment and Closure Commission, which was created by Congress, resulted only in the departure of Eielson’s A-10 squadron.
Concern about Eielson also spurred the Legislature to pass a bill last session to created “economic incentive zones” around military bases. The bill, sponsored by Representative Steve Thompson (R-Fairbanks), would create economic incentives for private industry to form partnerships with military installations. Governor Sean Parnell plans to sign the bill in Fairbanks today.
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