WASHINGTON — The third time may be the charm for the Defense Department in getting Congress to start the procedure that ultimately could close more excess military bases.
That would mean authorizing the Base Realignment and Closure process.
Past and proposed reductions in force numbers have created what defense officials say is more than a 25 percent surplus of military bases and facilities that are wasting billions of dollars each year. A separate Army analysis found that its excess capacity within the United States ranges between 12 and 28 percent, depending upon the facility. That figure will grow, because the Army is set to drop another 70,000 troops in the next five years.
Closing a base or even a facility is a political hot potato — so much so that Congress not only turned down the last two requests to start the BRAC process, in 2012 and 2013, but also barred the Pentagon from even planning for one.
This year, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and his Pentagon colleagues may be trying to mount their own political pressure to begin a BRAC process that could lead to approval by 2017 of a list of installations to be closed.
At hearings and in news conferences, Hagel and his team referred to a section of law that they say gives him unilateral authority to take some steps. As he put it on March 6 before the House Armed Services Committee, “As you probably know, in Title 10, I think it’s Section 2687, the secretary does have some authorities in reorganizing different bases.”
That title and section of the law says in part that the secretary can act “if the President certifies to the Congress that such closure or realignment must be implemented for reasons of national security or a military emergency.”
It also has a provision that says the defense secretary can act “without regard to any provision of law restricting the use of funds for closing or realigning military installations included in any appropriation or authorization Act.”
It’s clearly just a threat and not the desired route.
Most opposition to a new BRAC is based on the 2005 BRAC experience, which brought an enormous increase in implementation costs — from $21 billion to $35 billion. Hagel and others now say BRAC 2005 followed two tracks. One was for savings, the other for reorganization of forces and installations.
Pentagon officials said without closing bases through BRAC, the Defense Department cannot reduce the number of civilian employees at those installations.
Faced with the need to cut nonoperational expenses, the Pentagon this year has sharply reduced proposed spending for military construction. It is seeking $5.4 billion in the fiscal 2015 request, down from $8.4 billion in fiscal 2014.