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Pentagon: Base realignments and closures in 2021 could save billions

Senate Budget Committee staff members lay out copies of President Donald Trump's fiscal 2018 federal budget for distribution on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, May 23, 2017.

PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS/AP

By COREY DICKSTEIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 24, 2017

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s Pentagon spending plan for 2018 sent to lawmakers on Tuesday includes a new round of base realignments and closures, a proposal that the Defense Department contends could save billions of much-needed dollars but will likely meet stiff opposition on Capitol Hill.

The proposal, which is part of Trump’s Pentagon budget of $639.1 billion, asks Congress to approve a Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, in 2021. Similar requests sought in recent Pentagon budgets proposed by former President Barack Obama’s administration failed to gain any traction, as many lawmakers oppose BRAC, citing potential harms to communities surrounding military bases.

But Pentagon budget documents state the Defense Department holds about 20 percent more infrastructure than is necessary to operate effectively. A BRAC round, which is now barred by law, could potentially save $2 billion annually for the Defense Department, according to Pentagon estimates.

John Roth, who is performing the duties of Pentagon comptroller, said Tuesday that he wanted to “foot stomp” the department’s desire for a BRAC in 2021, but in order to accomplish that planning must begin this year.

“All we’re asking for at this stage is the authority,” Roth told reporters at the Pentagon. “We can’t even do the detailed analysis under current law.”

It has been more than a decade since Congress last authorized the Pentagon to conduct a BRAC. That BRAC, initiated in 2005, was the largest and costliest ever conducted, resulting in the closure of about two dozen major military installations across the United States and the restructuring of dozens more.

Other BRAC rounds occurred in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995.

Pentagon officials have said the savings since the 2005 BRAC have exceeded upfront costs associated with the closures and realignments. It was estimated to cost $21 billion. It reached $35 billion.

But Roth said Tuesday that the Pentagon has saved roughly $12 billion a year as the result of BRACs.

“That is a gift that keeps giving,” he said.

By continuing to hold unneeded infrastructure, he said, the Pentagon is “forgoing a very significant opportunity” to save money that could instead be used for training, maintaining or acquiring new equipment or other capacities to rebuild military readiness that has been eroded during the last 16 years of constant war.

“We think we’re getting some signals from at least a couple of committees that are more amenable to it and so we will be pushing that pretty hard,” Roth said.

In fact, some members of Congress have signaled they could be open to such a request, including the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., said at a committee hearing in January that they were looking into BRAC’s potential to save the Pentagon money.

“I think we have to examine all of the options that we have to make our military, our defense at the lowest possible cost to the American taxpayers,” said McCain, the committee’s chairman. “Right now we do have excess properties and facilities, and I think we need to look at it.”

BRAC has the full support of at least one powerful lawmaker. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., this year reintroduced legislation to allow the Pentagon to conduct future BRACs. Smith is the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.

That committee’s chairman, however, remains skeptical about closing bases. Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said Monday that cutting bases could impact the military’s relationship with civilian society.

“We talk a lot about BRAC,” Thornberry said. “If you significantly reduce the number of communities that have military bases near them, how does that affect the relationship between civilian sector and the military? It may [hurt it.]”

dickstein.corey@stripes.com
Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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