A locked gate bars entry to a former U.S. base in Darmstadt, Germany.

A locked gate bars entry to a former U.S. base in Darmstadt, Germany. (Michael Abrams/Stars and Stripes)

WASHINGTON – The Pentagon’s recently installed installations chief wants Congress to consider a new round of base closures and troop realignments, touting it as an opportunity to increase combat readiness by stationing forces closer to their optimal training facilities.

A Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, round in 2021 would not only save the Defense Department significant money, but it would allow the Pentagon to move troops to installations where increased training rates could boost their battlefield lethality, said Lucian Niemeyer, who last month became the assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations and environment. The Pentagon has requested another BRAC, last conducted in 2005, for five years, but has been met by stiff resistance from Congress.

“The country should embrace a process that allows us to put our forces at locations that ultimately will provide the most benefit, the most effective force available at the most efficient cost,” Niemeyer said Tuesday at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington, D.C. think tank that supports a BRAC round.

In recent years, the Pentagon has pitched BRAC as a cost-saving tool. The Defense Department in its most recent budget documents estimated it holds about 20 percent more infrastructure than necessary, largely on Army and Air Force installations. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has said a BRAC, which is currently barred by law, could save some $2 billion annually for the Pentagon.

There are signs some members of Congress are warming to the idea of a BRAC round. Rep. Adam Smith of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Service Committee, has introduced an amendment to the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act that would kill language forbidding a BRAC round now in the House version of the Pentagon funding bill. Meanwhile, the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee -- John McCain, R-Ariz., and Jack Reed, D-R.I. -- are crafting their own bill that would authorize a BRAC round in 2021.

BRAC has been politically unpopular since the 2005 round cost significantly more money that initially expected and lawmakers have expressed concerns their communities would be harmed if military bases were removed.

Niemeyer said the last BRAC round was still able to provide the Pentagon cost savings and the vast majority of communities were able to recover from any damages inflicted by the military pullout, because language in the BRAC law allows for federal aid to address those economic challenges.

Andrew Hunter, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, another Washington, D.C think tank, agreed a BRAC round would be beneficial to the Defense Department. He said lawmakers should consider many installations would benefit from a new BRAC round by receiving a boost in personnel and other assets.

“There’s only a relatively small number of bases that actually get closed,” he said. “There’s only a small number of losers, whose concern is actually acute.” Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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Corey Dickstein covers the military in the U.S. southeast. He joined the Stars and Stripes staff in 2015 and covered the Pentagon for more than five years. He previously covered the military for the Savannah Morning News in Georgia. Dickstein holds a journalism degree from Georgia College & State University and has been recognized with several national and regional awards for his reporting and photography. He is based in Atlanta.

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