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Defense official says BRAC still on track

By Ben Evans
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON — A top Defense Department official said Tuesday that the military base realignment slated to bring thousands of jobs to northern Alabama will proceed on schedule as long as Congress provides the money.

"We have committed to the funding and we're committed to the schedule," Philip Grone, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense told business leaders from Madison and Morgan counties at a chamber of commerce meeting on Capitol Hill.

Grone acknowledged that the failure of last year's Congress to approve relevant spending bills and the stalemate over a war supplemental bill this year have complicated those efforts.

But he said there appears to be bipartisan consensus behind keeping the process on track for a 2011 completion.

Alabama fared well in the last round of closures under the Pentagon's Base Realignment and Closure plan announced in 2005.

The Army Materiel Command and the Space and Missile Defense Command headquarters are slated to move to the Army's Redstone Arsenal outside Huntsville, as is the bulk of the Missile Defense Agency.

The transfers are expected to bring nearly 5,000 federal jobs to the area, spawning at least as many private-sector jobs.

Grone said the White House has fully budgeted for the $31 billion required to make the BRAC transition nationwide, including for new offices and other facilities.

But so far that request has traveled a rocky road in Congress.

Lawmakers adopted less than half of Bush's proposed $5.6 billion in funding for the current fiscal year. The remaining $3.1 billion is in the Iraq war spending bill that is locked in a dispute over whether to set timelines for withdrawing troops from Iraq. Meanwhile, the budget for fiscal 2008 will need approval later in the year.

Alabama Reps. Bud Cramer, D-Huntsville, and Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville, who ar-ranged Tuesday's meetings, said the new commands at Redstone will have a profound impact on the region's economy.

"There's so much synergy," Cramer said of the private jobs that the military postings will generate. "It completes our community."

The lawmakers also agreed with Grone that there is enough bipartisan support to keep the spending flowing.

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