U.S. Army Europe closes the final installation in Heidelberg on Sept. 6, 2013.

U.S. Army Europe closes the final installation in Heidelberg on Sept. 6, 2013. (Dee Crawford/U.S. Army)

The tug of war between the Pentagon and Congress about base closures might have gotten a little more interesting.

According to a story published Wednesday in the online defense magazine Breaking Defense, largely forgotten laws give the Defense Department authority to close facilities without the Base Realignment and Closure process — without DOD even getting permission from Congress.

Speaking at the Association of the U.S. Army’s winter conference in Huntsville, Ala., House Armed Services Committee staffer Vickie Plunkett said Wednesday that buried in Title 10 — the chapter of the US Code that governs the Defense Department — is Section 2687, which, she said, “does give the services authority to do closures, and it only requires notification to Congress,” Breaking Defense reported.

If the Pentagon and the White House were willing to take the political risk, they could shut down facilities and dare a gridlocked Congress to undo it.

“It’s notification with time for Congress to act” before the closure is carried out, the magazine reported her saying. But, the veteran staffer went on — emphasizing her opinions were her own, not committee policy — “Congress is basically dysfunctional right now.

“The authorities only require notification. Take your chances,” she said to an eruption of laughter, “because it’s going to require us to get our act together to stop it.”

The Army has recommended to the Office of the Secretary of Defense and Congress that a new round of BRAC is needed for 2017. More than 350 installations have been closed in five BRAC rounds in 1989, 1991, 1993, 1995 and 2005.

No one is suggesting that the Pentagon should try to slip something past Capitol Hill, Breaking Defense stressed. As a matter of constitutional law, any such actions need to be included in the annual budget, which has to be passed by Congress. As a matter of practical politics, the military informs Congress when it lets go even a handful of arsenal or depot employees, even people fired for misconduct, because it just takes one angry person to call their congressman to bring all sorts of hell down on the Army’s head.

The Pentagon is in an even stronger position when it comes to the Army’s arsenals, the government-owned manufacturing facilities for military equipment. Section 4532 of Title 10 — portions of which predate the Civil War — is the Arsenal Act, which Plunkett pointed out contains this language:

“The Secretary may abolish any United States arsenal that he considers unnecessary.”

And that’s not even the Secretary of Defense, because the Act was written before that job existed: It’s the Secretary of the Army.

“The Secretary of the Army,” Plunkett emphasized “has unilateral authority — standing, statutory, Title 10 authority — to close arsenals. Unilateral.

“Now the issue is,” she said, “will the services … take advantage of those statutes?”

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