Defense doesn’t need Congress’ blessing to close bases

Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., expresses concern another BRAC round could hurt military preparedness. Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., expresses concern another BRAC round could hurt military preparedness. Lawrence Jackson/AP file photo

If Congress fails to approve the Obama administration’s request for a second round of military base closures, then the Pentagon will close them through a process more detrimental to local communities, Defense Department officials told House lawmakers this week.

The warning came in response to widespread criticism of the administration’s recent proposal for another Base Closure and Realignment Commission process. During a Thursday hearing, members of the House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee argued further base closings would do little to save money and could leave the military inadequately prepared to meet future threats.

“If the administration presumes that a reduced force structure is required to meet our future security challenges, and cites this as the principal reason for this BRAC request, I must move to vigorously oppose another round of BRAC,” subcommittee chairman Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., said during the hearing.

The last BRAC round began in 2005 and affected 800 military installations. Many of the moves, including federal offices, are ongoing. The Government Accountability Office has estimated the restructuring efforts cost $35 billion.

Dorothy Ryan, deputy undersecretary of Defense for installations and environment, said lawmakers should not use the 2005 BRAC round as a basis for evaluating the current proposal. The 2005 closures were driven by “the urgency of war,” with the transportation of installations and not cost savings as their primary purpose, Ryan said.

“How can we afford another BRAC round given that the 2005 round doesn’t pay off until 2015? That’s an eminently fair question,” she said.

Base closures in the 1990s are a better comparison because they were conducted with cost savings in mind, she said. The BRAC rounds in 1988 and 1991, however, were harder than necessary on the affected communities, she added. The policy at the time made the process of rebuilding disposed-of property “slow, bureaucratic and penny-pinching,” she said.

The Pentagon must go back to that process if Congress does not approve a new round under the more community-friendly 2005 rules, according to Ryan.

“One reason we want to avoid that approach is that, if [Defense] acts outside of the BRAC process, the department is severely constrained in what it can do to help local communities,” Ryan said.

The Pentagon’s top brass has said publicly that another round of BRAC is not ideal, but necessary as the department tries to slash $487 billion from its budget over 10 years.

“While some may view our request for a round in 2013 as aggressive, the magnitude of the cuts we are making in force structure means we simply can’t wait,” Ryan told lawmakers.

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