DOD threatens BRAC with or without congressional backing
WASHINGTON — Pentagon officials warned skeptical lawmakers this week that the military will look to close some facilities with or without a formal base closure round, and said local communities could suffer without Congress’ cooperation.
But lawmakers remain fiercely opposed to another BRAC round, and questioned the motivations and potential savings. Military leaders insist the moves are necessary to protect the strategic and financial interests of the armed forces.
“We must close and realign military bases here in the United States,” Dorothy Robyn, deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment, told lawmakers on Thursday. “If Congress does not authorize additional BRAC rounds for this purpose, the department will be forced to use its existing authorities to begin to support our new defense strategy.”
Robyn said working outside of a base closure format would force military planners to forgo coordination with local communities affected by the moves, in some cases depriving municipalities of uncontested access to the excess land or buildings. Military officials also wouldn’t be able to commit to specific closing or clean-up schedules outside of a BRAC process, or provide any financial aid to affected communities.
Despite that threat, lawmakers at that House Armed Services Committee hearing called it laughable to pay for another round of unpopular base closings now, with the Defense Department already struggling with looming budget cuts.
The largest stumbling block for BRAC supporters appears to be the slow pace and questionable results of the last round, in 2005. Those personnel moves and facility closings cost more than $35 billion to execute, and Government Accountability Office researchers say taxpayers won’t see any savings until 2018.
Robyn said that round was focused more on force realignment than cost savings. The previous four base-closing rounds — in 1988, 1991, 1993, and 1995 — generated savings much quicker, to date totaling more than $100 billion for the military. Defense officials could not provide estimates on what the new rounds might save.
But David Berteau, senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the base-closure process is not designed to produce immediate or even short-term savings, which makes it a difficult sell for lawmakers. The confusion surrounding the 2005 BRAC round has only added to that problem.
None of the representatives Robyn addressed this week seemed swayed.
Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., blasted the idea of closing more bases as a short sighted reduction in the military’s force structure. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, said he wouldn’t support adding more short-term costs to the defense budget today for questionable savings later.
Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., who served in Iraq as a medical company commander, accused leaders of looking for funding cuts in the wrong places.
“It seems to me that civilians at the Pentagon are willing to recommend reductions in those who are in the fight, and reductions in those who are supporting our warfighters, but when we ask about where they work, those areas seem to be off-limits,” he said.
Lawmakers also said that the Defense Department’s goal of a 2013 base-closure round are unrealistic, given the compressed legislative calendar in an election year.
If they were to approve new rounds of base closures, the House and Senate would likely do so as part of the annual defense authorization bill. But that measure isn’t expected to be finalized until after the November presidential election, leaving little time to plan for a months long closure process the following year.