WASHINGTON — Another round of military base closings has hit a dead end.
The Senate Armed Services readiness subcommittee on Tuesday approved legislation rejecting the Defense Department’s request to shutter installations and facilities in the United States that are no longer needed as the military branches cut the number of troops in uniform.
The House Armed Services Committee also said no to more base closings last week, and even took the additional step of adding a provision barring the Pentagon from even planning for another round.
The refusals by the House and Senate effectively ensure that a final defense policy bill approved by Congress for the 2014 fiscal year won’t give the department permission to close excess bases even as lawmakers clamor for ways to cut the federal deficit.
Lawmakers also have rebuffed the Defense Department’s attempts to rein in spending on the costly military health care program by increasing enrollment fees for military retirees and their dependents. Pentagon comptroller Robert Hale warned during a separate congressional hearing Tuesday that the military would have to cut about 25,000 troops to offset the expense if it can’t slow the growth of the health care program by 2018.
On base closings, Defense Department leaders have argued that the troop drawdown will leave them with more installations than they need. The money saved by closing facilities can be spent on training and other essential operations.
But military installations are often the economic lifeblood of the communities that surround them and any discussion about shutting bases is a political hot button.
Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, the chairwoman of the readiness subcommittee, said the upfront costs of starting a new round of closures are too high.
— ASSOCIATED PRESS
Contractors repay fees to Energy Department
WASHINGTON — Four contractors managing the Energy Department’s national laboratories charged the department $450,000 for consulting fees paid to a former GOP congresswoman from New Mexico, but the contractors could not document her work, according to a report by the department’s inspector general.
The payments to Heather Wilson by Lockheed Martin, Bechtel, and others were made to the firm Heather Wilson & Co. from early 2009 through early 2011, after Wilson had left Congress but before her unsuccessful bid for the Senate in 2012.
Yet the inspector general said that the justification for the billing did ‘‘not meet even minimum standards’’ for federal payments and that there was an ‘‘absence of detailed evidence of the actual services provided by Wilson.’’ It said that the Sandia labs contractor, a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, ‘‘developed an after-the-fact schedule of activities.’’
The four contractors have reimbursed the Energy Department for the payments. Wilson said Monday that the Energy Department had not contacted her about the matter. She declined to comment further.
In February, Wilson was named by House Speaker John Boehner to an advisory panel on the National Nuclear Security Administration that will reassess how the national laboratories are run. Critics decried her appointment as a conflict of interest because of her contract work for the labs.
During her 2012 Senate race, Wilson portrayed herself as a strong advocate for Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories, both headquartered in New Mexico.
— WASHINGTON POST
White House postpones congressional picnic
WASHINGTON — That annual summer ritual of forced harmony known as the White House congressional picnic? Not going to happen.
The White House Office of Legislative Affairs has notified members of the House and Senate that the event, typically held in June, might be rescheduled for September.
Postponing the picnic comes as President Obama has been wining, dining, and hobnobbing with select groups of congressional Republicans and Democrats. White House officials say the lack of a picnic shouldn’t undercut those outreach efforts.
White House officials said the decision not to hold the event this month was based on Obama’s schedule, which includes two June overseas trips, not on the budget cuts caused by the that have curtailed other government activities.
Congress is in recess in August, and the White House said July’s high temperatures could spoil such an event. ‘‘June is packed, July is hot, August they’re not here,’’ White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
— ASSOCIATED PRESS