WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon does not need the consent of governors to move Air National Guard units in their states, the Justice Department has concluded, less than two weeks before an independent commission must decide which parts of the Defense Department's base-closing plan to change.
Giving governors what would amount to veto power over the Pentagon's plans, at least with respect to National Guard units, would undermine a process created by Congress to reduce the role of politics in deciding which bases to close, the department said in response to a lawsuit filed by the state of Pennsylvania. Illinois has filed a similar lawsuit, arguing that the Pentagon doesn't have the authority to move units without the approval of the governors, who share control with the president over the units' use.
In siding with the Pentagon, Justice lawyers said Pennsylvania is asking to return ''to a system in which local politics, rather than national planning, determined which facilities were closed and which were spared."
The ruling has implications for Otis Air National Guard Base on Cape Cod, which is slated to close under the Pentagon's proposal, eliminating 505 jobs, mostly civilian. On Thursday, base closing commission Chairman Anthony Principi questioned the wisdom of closing Otis, particularly since other New England bases were also being shut down.
Pennsylvania officials questioned the propriety of the Justice Department offering opinions to the base closing commission while also representing the Defense Department against the state's lawsuit. ''Where is the independent judgment or analysis?" asked Adrian R. King Jr., an aide to Pennsylvania's governor, Edward G. Rendell. ''As far as this state's concerned, the only opinion that matters is the opinion of a judge in a court of law and that's why we filed the lawsuit."
The proposed Air Guard changes have emerged as the most contentious part of the base-closing plan. When the nine-member commission meets later this month, Chairman Anthony Principi said it ''will be compelled to exercise its best judgment" on whether to sign off on the plan to shake up dozens of Air Guard units.
During a hearing Thursday, Principi questioned whether the Air Guard plan would mean new risks for the United States' domestic security. ''We're proposing taking aircraft out of a number of states, eliminating all of the assets out of certain states and dramatically reducing them in other states," he said.