Frederick Reese In an attempt to deal with cuts imposed upon the military by sequestration, the Pentagon has formally proposed two rounds of Base Realignment and Closures (BRAC) for 2015 and 2017. The Republicans — distinctly and loudly — have said no to this. The Department of Defense has requested $2.4 billion over the next […]
In an attempt to deal with cuts imposed upon the military by sequestration, the Pentagon has formally proposed two rounds of Base Realignment and Closures (BRAC) for 2015 and 2017.
The Republicans — distinctly and loudly — have said no to this.
The Department of Defense has requested $2.4 billion over the next five years to reduce the military’s “excess capacity” in real estate in consideration that the military’s manpower will be reduced in excess of 100,000 active combatants. The military is also seeking to slow personnel cost growth by requesting a 1 percent pay raise for active military personnel and an increase in fees paid for some health care services.
The Pentagon has, for the last 10 years, classified one in 10 Defense Department installations as “excessive.” The nation controls in excess of 1,000 military bases and forward installations, and efforts to consolidate or condense the military’s infrastructure have been met with extraordinary political resistance from Congress.
Congress dislikes BRAC because there is typically a large upfront cost to move equipment and troops and to render a military base safe for public use, or to demolish it. Congress also dislikes BRAC because military bases tend to be the primary engine of jobs and revenues in many congressional districts. The process of choosing which bases to close is divisive and threatens to tear apart the parties’ internal unity, especially at a time where it is perceived that such unity is needed most — with debates on gun control, the budget and immigration in the works. In addition, base closures are a no-win issue for Republicans, as it makes them appear weak on defense.
Republicans, because of this, issued a pre-emptive rejection of BRAC last month, ahead of the Pentagon’s official request. “I categorically reject this notion that presumes to balance the federal budget on the backs of our service members,” Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) said. “This assertion that a reduction of 100,000 service members is a principal reason to have a BRAC round today is short-sighted.”
For the most part, the Democrats are staying out of this fight, torn between loyalty to the president and their own political livelihoods. A few Democrats, however, have spoken out.
“Given that BRAC 2005 ended up costing more and saving less than expected, and based on our current environment, I remain skeptical of the value of a new BRAC round at this juncture,” said House Territorial Del. Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam), asking witnesses to assure her that the focus of new rounds of base closures would be “on excess capacity and not on realigning mission as was the case in 2005, which did not lead to significant savings in the near term.”
A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report issued last June showed that the 2005 round of BRAC was $14.1 billion over the $21 billion estimate. However, the study does conclude that more money will be saved because of the 2005 BRAC in the long term.
Assistant Secretary of the Army Katherine Hammack argues that it is not fair or apt to use BRAC 2005 as a measure of success for future BRACs. “Because the focus of the BRAC 2005 round was on realigning installations to better support forces, as opposed to saving money and space exclusively, it is a less accurate gauge of the savings the Department can achieve through another BRAC round,” Hammack said in written testimony provided by the House Armed Services Committee.
Political bickering and military bloat
Despite the fact that BRAC is generally panned by Congress, many legislators see the inevitability of military infrastructure contraction and are starting to hedge their bets. Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) has appealed to Army Secretary John McHugh and Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno to “fully consider Alaska’s enduring contributions and indisputable advantages” in regard to the Army’s future force structure. Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.) praised the Navy for moving the USS New York from Norfolk to Mayport, which is in his district, as part of a consolation for not awarding the seaport an aircraft carrier. Crenshaw is currently courting the Navy to replace much of Mayport’s frigate line with littoral combat ships as they become available.
Recently, Alaskan officials have offered, free of charge, a $78 million prototype Navy amphibious assault vehicle that the late Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) lobbied to have developed, and later, secured to be a ferry transport for Anchorage. Stevens’ departure from office in 2008 meant that pork belly spending dried up for Alaska — there was not enough federal funding to build the ferry landings and docks. Los Angeles County is in preliminary discussion to adopt the prototype, which never went into production.
Prior to the 2005 BRAC, the Defense Department assessed that 24 percent of its facility infrastructure were “excessive.” BRAC 2005 closed only three percent of the Department of Defense’s infrastructure.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel attests to the need to pursue BRAC: “BRAC is a comprehensive and fair tool that allows communities a role in reuse decisions for the property and provides redevelopment assistance,” Hagel said. “There are upfront costs for BRAC, and this budget adds $2.4 billion over the next five years to pay them, but in the long term, there are significant savings.”
“Historically, Congress and the White House have both proven to be poor judges of where and how we will have to fight to preserve our liberty,” said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.). “What we can say with certainty is that the fight will come. By levying more cuts on the military, the president has decided that a future generation of Americans won’t have what they need on that day.”
The top Republican in the Senate Armed Service Committee, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chided the president on not factoring in sequestration. Blaming the president for failing “to address the unprecedented resource challenges facing our military,” Inhofe said the budget proposal “fails to exhibit the needed leadership of a commander in chief to adequately address our escalating threats abroad and our harsh fiscal realities here at home.”
It should be noted that sequestration was not factored in by either the Republican-controlled House or the Democrat-controlled Senate when their budgets were passed this year.
This political bickering and back-and-forth is cited as the reason Defense Department officials did not submit a separate request to cover costs in Afghanistan, as the department usually does. The Pentagon is asking Congress for $88 billion — $6 billion more than last year — as a “placeholder” for the formal request “in the coming weeks.”