Pentagon has plan for keeping jobs in Calif. as base closes


WASHINGTON -- Pentagon officials have crafted a plan with members of the independent commission on the closing of military bases that they hope will save thousands of jobs at a California Air Force base and political face for President Clinton.

After intense negotiations over the weekend involving the commission, the military and the White House, the Pentagon is preparing to recommend that the president reject the panel's suggestion that 11,000 jobs at McClellan Air Force Base be transferred out of state.

Under the proposal, Mr. Clinton would ask the eight-member panel to reconsider the recommendations it made last month, but only on the narrowest grounds. He probably would not challenge the decision to close McClellan but would ask that it be left to the Pentagon to decide which bases or private contractors will be awarded the work now done there.

Panel members had directed the Air Force to move the communications electronics work at McClellan to Tobyhanna Army Depot in Pennsylvania.

Many details are still unfinished, and the discussions are still under way, but the Pentagon's preference would be the approach adopted with another large maintenance depot, Kelly Air Force Base near San Antonio, where the panel left it to the Pentagon to decide where the work should be awarded.

Under the compromise plan, Mr. Clinton would ask for the same flexibility, offering hope that some or all of McClellan's military and civilian jobs could stay in California with private contractors.

If the commission approves the proposal, which the Pentagon could send to the White House as early as tomorrow, Mr. Clinton could claim credit for saving jobs in a state that is crucial to his 1996 campaign hopes. The president could also deflect Republican criticism that he is tampering with the integrity of the base-closing process by saying that what is fair for Texas is fair for California.

Mr. Clinton can suggest changes in the panel's recommendations, but ultimately he and Congress must approve reject the list in its entirety.

"There is some hope for a resolution," Alan Dixon, a former Democratic senator from Illinois who is the commission chairman, said in a telephone interview. He declined to comment further.

But it was unclear whether the plan goes as far as Californians or some senior White House political operatives would like. "It's something that sounds like it might have promise, but we'll have to see the analysis that supports it," said a senior administration official.

Because the proposal would not guarantee that McClellan's jobs would stay in California, it drew sharp protest from California's two Democratic senators, who have lobbied the president to reject the panel's recommendations as harmful to national security and California's suffering economy. From the California perspective, if the base must close, the next best solution would be to keep most of the work in Northern California, to be done at lower cost by private contractors.

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