WASHINGTON -- Safe for a decade, military bases in the United States face an uncertain future.
The Pentagon is planning to shut down or scale back some of the 425 facilities, the first such effort to save money in 10 years. The downsizing is part of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's long-term transformation of the military.
The Pentagon chief argues that closing or consolidating stateside bases could save $7 billion annually and that the money would be better spent improving fighting capabilities amid terrorist threats.
"The department continues to maintain more military bases and facilities than are needed, consuming and diverting valuable personnel and resources," Rumsfeld recently told lawmakers.
Shrinking the domestic network of Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps bases means savings. It also is a high-stakes political fight because it affects local economies in congressional districts.
Lawmakers have resisted efforts to shutter their bases, lobbying hard to keep their installations off the final list.
"It's the perfect example of good policy and good politics not fitting in the same room together," said Christopher Hellman, analyst for the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation in Washington.
"Conceptually, lawmakers buy the argument that base closures are important to make sure they are spending resources wisely" but they are reluctant to close bases in their cities because of job losses, Hellman said.
Rumsfeld has estimated that extra base capacity is at nearly 25 percent. But Republican lawmakers said the secretary recently told them that the cuts will not be as deep.
The Pentagon says all domestic bases are under consideration. But clearly some are more vulnerable than others.
Topping the list are aging facilities, small bases used by only one of the four services, and large installations whose missions, training, ammunition, or weapons are outdated.
The Northeast is home to many bases configured to defend against the Soviet threat; such bases could absorb the biggest hit.
Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Vermont were among the 22 states that avoided losing a major base during the four rounds of closings that began in 1988.
In Massachusetts, potential closing targets could be Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford and the Army's Soldier Systems Center in Natick, which are to be reviewed by the federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission.
Apart from base closings, the Navy this month said it was scaling down plans for new warships and submarines and may make cuts of up to 50 percent in orders for vessels that were to be built at shipyards in Bath, Maine, and Groton, Conn.
Congress authorized the fifth round of base closures last year. The first deadline in the yearlong process is March 15, when President Bush must name the nine-member commission that will review closures that Rumsfeld will propose by May.
Congressional leaders have submitted their six recommendations. Bush will make his three choices known shortly.
Congress authorized the closures last year, rejecting a delay until 2007. Still, some Republicans and Democrats continue to fight.
"I will try to stop it at any point and in any way I possibly can," said Senator Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican. Closing bases while the country is at war is "the worst possible timing," he said.
He lobbied hard during previous rounds to keep open the Meridian Naval Air Station in Mississippi, which barely escaped closure. It could be targeted again this year. Other lawmakers say the round will go forward.
"How could you possibly reverse it? It would be crazy," said Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican.