WASHINGTON — Calling Point Mugu naval base "a critical national asset," Navy Secretary John H. Dalton offered a last-minute defense of the Ventura County facility Wednesday as the federal base closure commission prepares to vote next week on which installations ought to close.
"The Department of the Navy feels strongly that Point Mugu is a critical national asset for research, development, training and engineering for the Navy," Dalton told the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission at its final hearing, this one reserved for military brass.
Dalton, adding his influential voice to the chorus of Navy officials and local Point Mugu boosters, said the Navy evaluated the installation in previous base closure rounds, but never proposed closure because of its high military value, which places it No. 2 among Navy technical centers.
He disagreed with the commission's decision last month to add Point Mugu to the list to consider for closure. And he praised the installation for streamlining its activities in recent years and working cooperatively with the nearby China Lake base.
"We now have an efficient, irreplaceable set of land and sea ranges collocated with and integral to research and development laboratories that are unique within the Department of Defense," Dalton said.
He cited many of the critical functions offered at Point Mugu, including air tracking for the off-shore sea test range and support for the Naval Reserve and Air National Guard. Without mentioning the controversial Pentagon inspector general's report that suggested keeping the sea test range open while transferring most other functions, Dalton argued that significant numbers of workers would still be needed to run the test range extending off the Ventura coast.
"The closure of this facility would provide no reduction in numbers of technical personnel, even if all Point Mugu research and development functions were transferred," Dalton said. "And, there would only be limited reductions in base support staff, since most would still be required to support the test range."
Point Mugu was one of five bases Dalton emphasized in his testimony before the commission. Wednesday's hearing brings to a close the commission's public sessions, which have included numerous regional hearings and two days of testimony from members of Congress. The eight BRAC commissioners have offered few hints of Point Mugu's fate. On Wednesday, they questioned Dalton and other military officials on other proposed closures but did not bring up Point Mugu.
In other testimony Wednesday, Joshua Gotbaum, assistant secretary of defense for economic security, said the Pentagon stands by its original recommendations, which spared Point Mugu from closure or realignment.
In addition, Gotbaum agreed with commission Chairman Alan Dixon on the need for another round of closures once this one is complete. Defense Secretary William Perry has recommended that the next round come in three to four years, but Dixon said he is inclined to delay the process until 2001 to give the country time to absorb the latest closures.