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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, July 18, 2005

BRAC panel 'quite qualified'

Advertiser Washington Bureau


WASHINGTON — A key hearing today and decision tomorrow by an independent panel charged with closing, shrinking or expanding the nation's military bases will determine if Hawai'i must wage a fight for the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard.

The shipyard's fate rests in the hands of the nine Base Realignment and Closure Commission members.

The commissioners have diverse backgrounds, but a collective expertise that gives them a solid focus on the issues they face.

On the panel are two former Cabinet secretaries — former Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony J. Principi, who chairs the commission, and former Transportation Secretary Samuel Skinner. There also are two former members of Congress, a defense researcher and four retired military officers, including the only woman on the panel, retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Sue Ellen Turner.

"It's a good commission," said Rep. Ed Case, D-Hawai'i. "You've got a lot of quite qualified people who come from different aspects of the big picture."

The South and West are represented best on the panel. Two members, including Principi, call California home and the rest come from Georgia, Florida, Illinois, Texas, Utah and Virginia.

Only one has a strong, direct tie to Hawai'i — retired Army Gen. James T. Hill, who commanded the 25th Infantry Division from 1997 to 1999.

But Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawai'i, served with two commissioners — former Reps. James V. Hansen, R-Utah, and James H. Bilbray, D-Nevada. Hansen served on the House Resources Committee and helped Abercrombie push the Native Hawaiian bill, which sets up a process for federal recognition of Native Hawaiians, to House passage in 2000, the only year the full chamber approved the bill. The Senate never took up the measure that year.

The panel, after it completes hearings around the country and deliberations, will put together a final list of bases for closure or reorganization for President Bush and the Congress by early September.

"It is an uncommonly independent and well-informed group of people and that makes it more likely that they will not simply embrace the Pentagon's recommendations but make major changes," said Loren Thompson, a military analyst with the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va. "One of the distinguishing characteristics of this group of commissioners is that it understands strategic trends and military needs very well."

But this year's rules make it harder for the commission to make major changes. Adding bases to the list — to replace installations that are removed — will require the approval of seven of the nine commissioners. In the past, it took a simple majority.

Here's a quick look at the commissioners:

  • Bilbray, who served in the Army Reserve from 1955 to 1963, was a member of House committees on foreign affairs, armed services and intelligence. He now works as an attorney in government relations and administrative law.

  • Philip Coyle of California is a senior adviser to the Center for Defense Information and a defense consultant. He has served as an assistant secretary of defense for test and evaluation and spent 40 years in testing and test-related matters.

  • Hansen, who was in the Navy from 1951 to 1955, served on the House Armed Services Committee and also chaired the House Resources Committee in 2001-2002.

  • Hill of El Paso, Texas, ended his 36-year Army career as commander of U.S. Southern Command. He also served as deputy commander of the United States Forces under the United Nations Mission in Haiti.

  • Retired Navy Adm. Harold W. Gehman Jr., retired in 2000 after 35 years on active duty, including duty as NATO's supreme allied commander, Atlantic, and as commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command. Immediately after retiring, he served as co-chairman of the Pentagon's review of the terrorist attack on the USS Cole and in 2003, was chairman of the investigation board probing the Columbia space shuttle accident.

  • Retired Air Force Gen. Lloyd "Fig" Newton spent more than 34 years on active duty and currently serves as executive vice president of Pratt & Whitney. He served as commander of the Air Education and Training Command, with headquarters at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, and has more than 4,000 flying hours in the T-37, T-38, F-4, F-15, F-16, C-12 and F-117.

  • Principi, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, saw active duty on a destroyer and later commanded a River Patrol Unit in Vietnam's Mekong Delta. After leaving the service, he once served as counsel for the Senate Armed Services and Veterans Affairs committees. He was veterans secretary from 2001 to 2004 and now is vice president of Pfizer Corp.

  • Skinner, who was in the Army Reserve from 1960 to 1968, served as President George H.W. Bush's chief of staff as well as transportation secretary. He is the retired chairman, president and chief executive officer of USF Corp.

  • Turner, who is from Texas, retired in 1995 with 30 years of active duty after serving as director of nursing services in the Office of the Air Force Surgeon General. She is a member of the American Battle Monuments Commission and the board of directors for a large credit union.

    If you care to share your thoughts about what it's like to work at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard now or if you've worked there in the past, please e-mail us at pearlcomments @honoluluadvertiser.com and we may have a reporter contact you. Please be sure to include your full name and phone number.


    C-SPAN2 will carry the BRAC hearings live today, starting at 2:30 a.m. HST.

    The news channel typically runs 4 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Hawai'i, sharing time with the Game Show Network on Channel 49. However, programming coordinator Nanette Shimomura said Oceanic Time Warner Cable will be picking up the C-SPAN2 feed at 2:30 a.m. today so viewers can follow the BRAC hearing. No replays of the hearing are scheduled.


    The Base Realignment and Closure Commission votes tomorrow on whether to add the Pearl Harbor shipyard and certain other bases worldwide to the list of proposed base closings already submitted by the Pentagon.

    The commission can decline to put either Pearl Harbor or the Portsmouth shipyard on its base-closing list or it could reduce the functions at Pearl Harbor but not close it, which BRAC Chairman Anthony Principi indicated may be an option.

    Other key deadlines:

    Sept. 8: The commission must give President Bush its findings and list.

    Sept. 23: The president must give Congress a report approving or disapproving the commission's recommendations.

    If Bush approves the list, it becomes binding 45 legislative days later, unless Congress enacts joint resolution of disapproval.

    Oct. 20: If the president disapproves BRAC's recommendations, the commission must submit revised recommendations by this date.

    Nov 7: The president must approve the revised list by this date or the process ends. Congress has 45 days to reject the list or it becomes binding.


    Pentagon answers questions from BRAC Commission about the recommendation to close Portsmouth Naval Shipyard instead of Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard. The hearing begins at 2:30 a.m. HST and will air on C-SPAN2.