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Norwich Bulletin July 06, 2005


Lawmakers insist they did their best

By Katherine Hutt Scott

WASHINGTON-- Congressional lawmakers representing southeastern Connecticut have pleaded the case for the Groton submarine base in dozens of meetings, letters and phone calls.

Despite their lobbying, the Pentagon recommended in May that the base be closed and its 18 fast-attack submarines and their sailors be sent to bases in Virginia and Georgia.

U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, R-2nd District, and Democratic Sens. Christopher Dodd and Joseph Lieberman said they couldn't think of anything they didn't do.

"We worked our tails off," Simmons said.

Military experts agree the lawmakers have earned their pay.

The problem, the experts said, is the process of closing military bases is not simply political. By law, it's based on a Pentagon analysis of which bases are most important to ensure the country's continued national security.

"(The lawmakers) can't change the facts," said John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org, a defense analysis firm. "There is an underlying factual analysis that forms a significant component of the (base-closure) process."

John Markowicz, chairman of a southeastern Connecticut group that is trying to save the sub base, said national politics played a back-seat role to the cost of acquiring new ships and submarines and the cost-savings associated with closing bases.

An independent Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission will examine the Pentagon's list of recommended base closings and come up with a final list by Sept. 8.

Retired Air Force Gen. James B. Davis, who served on the BRAC Commission that participated in the 1995 round of base closings, said the Connecticut lawmakers' lobbying probably made Pentagon officials look closely at their submarine-base calculations to ensure they were correct.

The calls, letters and meetings will have the same effect on the BRAC commissioners who will examine the Pentagon's recommendations, Davis said.

"When you're on the commission, you feel the pressure, even though you're not beholden to (the lawmakers)," Davis said.

He and Pike say the only way to get a base removed from the list of recommended closures is to prove to the BRAC commissioners the Pentagon made a factual error.

Congressional efforts to save the Groton base date back to last year, Markowicz said. On Sept. 29, for example, Dodd hosted a meeting of Connecticut's congressional lawmakers and their staffs to discuss how to spread the word about the synergy between the base and a nearby submarine manufacturer, the Groton shipyard of General Dynamics' Electric Boat Division.

Simmons, Dodd and Lieberman compiled detailed lists of the efforts they have made in the intervening months. Simmons said he attended at least 11 BRAC-related meetings and Dodd and Lieberman each attended at least nine meetings. Simmons wrote at least 11 letters, Dodd at least 12 and Lieberman at least nine.

The lawmakers also have assigned many of their staff members to work on the issue.

"Nearly the entire staff has been involved," Dodd spokeswoman Stacie Paxton said. "This is the top priority for the office."


Copyright 2005, Norwich Bulletin