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Bay State lawmakers seek more information on possible base closings

WASHINGTON -- Bay State lawmakers wrote to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta today asking that Defense Department officials brief them on the rationale for a new round of base closings, expressing concern that the proposal could lead to deep cuts in Massachusetts’ main military facilities.

Last week, in unveiling a series of budget cuts, Panetta announced that the Obama Administration also plans to ask Congress to approve a new Base Realignment and Closure Commission to review excess infrastructure and recommend which facilities should be closed or consolidated.

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The Massachusetts House delegation signed a letter circulated by Representative Edward J. Markey, a Malden Democrat, seeking a more detailed explanation. Separately, Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, wrote to Panetta requesting his own briefing on the BRAC proposal.

“While any future BRAC round must be authorized by Congress, we are very concerned about this proposal,” the House delegation wrote. “Accordingly, we write to respectfully request that the department provide us a briefing on the rationale and the details for its plans as soon as possible.”

“Massachusetts is home to critical military installations of vital importance to our national defense,” the House letter added. “Hanscom Air Force Base and Natick Soldier Systems Center have great military value. ... Moreover, the extraordinary intellectual and technical assets in this region have created the country’s leading defense industrial cluster, which would be impossible to recreate elsewhere.”

Other important installations they cited were Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee, Fort Devens, Air Station Cape Cod, and Sector SE New England in Wood’s Hole -- all of which they described as “key components to our military infrastructure.”

Officials are particularly worried about the fate of Hanscom in Bedford, which is home to the Air Force’s Electronic Systems Center and at least partly responsible for an estimated 30,000 jobs, according to a defense industry group. The Air Force has been particularly vocal about the need to reduce overhead at installations across the country.

In his own letter, Kerry also previewed what are likely to be the key arguments for shielding the region from cuts in what will most certainly by a fierce competition with other areas of the country.

“As you know, Massachusetts is the front line of our defense along the East Coast for the entire nation -- Hanscom Air Force Base is a critical asset in a strategic location,” Kerry told Panetta. “We also provide the Defense Department with top notch personnel and research facilities.”

Bryan Bender can be reached at bender@globe.com
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