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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.”

When the Pentagon last year asked Congress to initiate a base closure process, powerful lawmakers such as Michigan Democrat Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told the military it needed to look for cuts in Europe before lawmakers would consider cuts at home.

Now that two brigades have been removed from Europe — eliminated from the force entirely — the military again is arguing that a base realignment and closure process is needed in 2015.

“We’ve been shedding infrastructure in Europe for several years and consolidating that infrastructure and are undertaking a review of our European footprint this year,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the Senate panel on April 17. “But we also need to look at our domestic footprint.”

Congress isn’t likely to make politically painful cuts in fiscal 2014, especially when there are other areas of the military budget that lack powerful constituencies to defend them, and some lawmakers are not convinced that the Department of Defense has done enough overseas.

“I would suggest in the process both of assessing sequestration in the short term and long term and in the BRAC process that a significant component of the department’s assessment should include consideration of the degree to which we can reduce our footprint overseas, reduce our bases overseas, reduce our manpower overseas,” Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said during the Senate hearing.

Few lawmakers want to lose the jobs associated with their bases during a fragile economic recovery or invest in environmental cleanup at those bases at a time when the military is slashing training and other operations and likely furloughing civilians as a result of congressionally mandated across-the-board cuts.

In recent hearings, lawmakers questioned why defense officials were suggesting a BRAC process when they haven’t done analysis to indicate its necessity. Of course, those lawmakers neglected to note that Congress, in the fiscal 2013 defense authorization law (PL 112-239), restricted the military’s ability to do such an analysis, a senior congressional aide noted.

Nonetheless, Hagel asserted the need is fairly obvious.

“When you look at the infrastructure required as we are bringing down our troops, reducing 100,000, we’re unwinding from two wars,” Hagel said. “We’re reducing responsibilities, commitments around the world. ... That’s also gonna require less inventory and infrastructure.”

Near the height of the military’s post-9/11 buildup, in 2005, the military concluded it had about 24 percent more infrastructure than it needed. With the force now shrinking, that figure is only growing.

Pentagon Comptroller Robert F. Hale said a new BRAC process could cost about $2.4 billion over three years, a figure that prompted additional pushback on Capitol Hill.

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