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DESPITE ITS ERROR AT TOOELE, BASE CLOSURE PANEL DID WELL

SHARE DESPITE ITS ERROR AT TOOELE, BASE CLOSURE PANEL DID WELL

And now a kind word for the much-criticized Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission.

Even faint praise is bound to contrast sharply with the tidal wave of anger that greeted this presidential panel following its recent decision to close 27 major military bases around the country and realign 11 others.For that matter, this page is still convinced that the commission erred in recommending closure of the recently completed, state-of-the-art truck maintenance facility at Tooele Army Depot while keeping open Marine facilities dating back to World War II.

But no one bats 1.000, and on the whole the panel did its difficult job carefully and responsibly.

Unlike the first base closure commission, which in 1988 did its work behind closed doors, the current commission went to great lengths to act in full view of the public.

The commission reviewed individual bases as many as five different times during three months of hearings. Except for a handful of classified military briefings, all the hearings were open. In fact, the New York Times reports, "the commissioners so jealously guarded the process' public nature that they avoided evening dining together in a quorum."

Nor was the commission a rubber stamp - again, unlike the previous panel. Given a list of 31 bases by the Pentagon, the commission added 47 installations for study. After the dust had settled, senior Pentagon officials admitted that the commission improved upon the military's recommendations.

Eventually, the work of the 1988 and 1993 base closure commissions is expected to save $6 billion a year, helping to reduce the federal deficit.

That savings won't make it easy for the communities affected by the base closures to lose more than 120,000 military and civilian jobs. But the impact will be phased in and President Clinton is seeking $45 million to ease the transition for hard-hit areas. In some communities, the bases being closed occupy prime real estate and private enterprise should quickly take up the slack.

But even in places where the pain persists, the fact remains that the only justification for the military is to protect the country, not create jobs. Now that the cold war has ended and the armed forces have been curtailed to a seventh of their former size, the military no longer needs as many bases as it once did.

Consequently, Americans might as well start preparing now for even more belt-tightening shortly after the presidential commission reconvenes in 1995 for another round of base closures.