FAIRBANKS - The military base review commission has rejected a request from U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens to lower the number of votes necessary to exempt bases from the Pentagon's cutback plan when commissioners declare themselves ineligible to vote because of a conflict of interest.
Stevens' request would have made it easier to remove Eielson Air Force Base from the Pentagon closure plan.
One commissioner has declared he will not vote on Eielson, leaving a pool of eight to decide the future of the base south of Fairbanks.
An agency spokesman said the law does not allow the change Stevens requested.
"We're standing by the original statute," commission spokesman Jim Schaefer said.
The Department of Defense has recommended the transfer of Eielson's fighter squadrons, including F-16 Fighting Falcons and A/OA-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft. The realignment would mean the loss of 2,800 airmen - nearly the entire active military contingent - and their 3,300 dependents.
Stevens, R-Alaska, and Sen. John Warner, R-Virginia, wrote Anthony Principi, chairman of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, on June 17. They said commission rules require that most actions be approved by a majority of commissioners "serving at the time."
With a nine-member commission, it thus takes five commissioners to pass a motion removing an installation from the Pentagon's plan.
If, however, commissioners do not vote because of conflicts of interest, a question arises about whether they are actually "serving," the senators wrote.
Without a change, the commission could find itself in an absurd position, the senators wrote. Even if a majority of eligible commissioners supported an action, the lack of five votes could doom it.
The commission must "preserve the principle of majority decision-making" in the face of multiple withdrawals by commissioners, the senators said.
Schaefer said the law passed by Congress, not the commission, has set the rules. The law requires five votes to take action, regardless of conflicts.
Stevens said Thursday he disagreed.
"There's a confusion as to the current law that Congress passed, which says a majority of commissioners must agree to amend or deny a recommendation of the Department of Defense," Stevens said. "We're confident that that means a majority of those who are permitted to vote."
Whether the dispute has much meaning for Eielson might depend on whether any other commissioners pull themselves from a decision affecting its personnel and aircraft.
With just one withdrawal, that of former Nevada Rep. James Bilbray, eight members remain to vote on Eielson.
Bilbray dropped himself out of the voting because part of the Pentagon's plan for Eielson involves relocating all 18 of the base's F-16 jets to Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.
Stevens also said the commission's voting requirements are too strict because they automatically knock commissioners out of decisions.
"I, for one, do not believe that automatic recusal makes any sense," Stevens said.
The commission may need to adopt a rule for itself "because there is no federal law that deals with recusals," Stevens said.
Bilbray, in comments before the regional hearing June 15 in Fairbanks, expressed a similar view. He said he could not see how a vote to remove Eielson from the Pentagon's plan could be motivated by whatever parochial interest he might have in Nevada.
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