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House Bill Lays Foundation for Future Base Closings

Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Smith, left, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, plans to present an amendment to the Defense authorization bill that would initiate another BRAC round.

The House Armed Services Committee is opening the door ever so slightly to the possibility of another Base Closure and Realignment Commission, laying the preliminary groundwork in its version of the fiscal 2015 defense authorization bill for the Pentagon to begin the lengthy and painful process of shuttering unneeded installations.

The panel’s bill (HR 4435), which the committee will consider during a marathon markup on Wednesday, denies the Pentagon’s request to begin a so-called BRAC round in 2015. But a little-noticed provision should give defense officials some hope that House lawmakers, who typically are the hardest to sell on base closures, are at least coming around to the idea of another BRAC.

In its portion of the bill, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness inserted a provision that would require the Defense secretary to submit a 20-year force structure plan and a comprehensive inventory of the department’s worldwide infrastructure when it delivers its fiscal 2016 budget request to Capitol Hill early next year.

Along with the report, the secretary would be required to certify that another BRAC is needed and would result in annual net savings within six years after the base-closure round is initiated. The bill also would task the Government Accountability Office with evaluating the “accuracy and analytical sufficiency of the plan and inventory.”

A House aide tracking the issue said lawmakers would simply feel more comfortable considering another base-closure round if they had more detailed information from the department.

“I think there is recognition that, at some point, we are going to deal with this information more seriously than we probably have,” the aide said.

The provision, though an incremental move, marks an evolution in thinking among lawmakers who have flatly and repeatedly rejected any talk of another base-closure round despite assertions from the Pentagon that the military has 25 percent more infrastructure than it actually needs.

Another BRAC round, defense officials say, would cost $6 billion up front. But it would cut costs by $2 billion a year in perpetuity, a tantalizing savings for a department faced with long-term caps on its budgets. Those caps are squeezing spending across the department, forcing the Pentagon to rethink how and where it spends its more limited money.

David Berteau, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, likens Congress’s reluctance on base closures to its unwillingness to accept Pentagon proposals to trim military benefits and make other difficult cost-cutting decisions.

But it appears that lawmakers are beginning to recognize that the department’s cash flow problem is not going away.

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