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Could More Base Closures Be on the Way?

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Senate Armed Services Chairman Levin said, “At a time when the Pentagon and the entire federal government face enormous fiscal challenges, the questionable projects and lack of oversight identified in this review are simply unacceptable.”

“Now is not the time to spend billions of dollars on another BRAC round, especially as the Department of Defense grounds combat aircraft and cancels ship deployments due to sequestration,” said New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, chairwoman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support.

Hale insisted that while the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission emphasized realignment, which required in some cases building new facilities, a new BRAC “will be much more focused on closing. And therefore the costs will be lower and the savings quicker.”

Hale said all previous BRAC rounds collectively save the Pentagon about $12 billion annually.

Avoiding Political Pain

But Congress isn’t going to take politically perilous steps, such as base closures or personnel pay and benefits reductions, until the military gets serious about all aspects of its budget, especially those cuts that come without political costs, according to senior congressional aides and experts.

Retired Gen. Arnold Punaro argues that as long as the military is speaking with a “forked tongue,” it will get nowhere with the BRAC.

He said, for example, that the military decried across-the-board cuts in fiscal 2013 and threatened furloughs for more than 180,000 civilians.

Now, the military says it is working to find ways to save to avoid large numbers of furloughs.

“One day the force is going to hell in a hand basket and then the next they can go to Syria,” he said. “You can’t one day say one thing and then another day say another thing.”

Punaro said Congress won’t support a BRAC until the military takes steps to reduce its bloated flag officer billets and other wasteful spending. He noted that the Joint Chiefs of Staff has added 1,000 workers to its office in the past two years.

“And yet they are saying everyone needs to tighten their belts?” Punaro said.

The Senate Armed Services panel issued a report in April that found that overseas construction projects lack congressional or Pentagon oversight and that allied contributions to overseas bases fail to keep up with rising U.S. costs.

“At a time when the Pentagon and the entire federal government face enormous fiscal challenges, the questionable projects and lack of oversight identified in this review are simply unacceptable,” Levin said. “Every dollar spent on unnecessary or unsustainable projects is a dollar unavailable to care for our troops and their families, to maintain and modernize equipment, and to pay for necessary investments in base infrastructure.”

But a congressionally mandated independent study by the Rand Corp. released last month found that further significant reductions to overseas basing likely would require a reassessment of U.S. strategic judgments.

Punaro argued that both Congress and the Pentagon make valid arguments for cuts and that both are culpable in the current economic pressure the military faces.

“In the end, everything has to be on the table,” Punaro said regarding a BRAC. “If I’m Congress, why should I bite bullets that the Pentagon itself doesn’t want to bite?”

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