Cohen to Congress: Give me a BRAC

Congress needs to let the Defense Department cash in excess bases for higher military pay and better weapons through another round of the Base Realignment and Closure process, Defense Secretary William Cohen reiterated Monday.

Since the Cold War, DoD has reduced its forces by 36 percent, but its infrastructure has only been cut by 21 percent, Cohen told leaders from communities already affected by BRAC efforts at a conference in Washington.

"We can no longer afford to be standing guard over facilities that no longer serve our national interests," Cohen said.

Proposals to increase military spending do not reduce the need for base closures, Cohen said. The savings unlocked from additional BRAC rounds are necessary to improve military retention efforts. Some of the savings must "go into [soldiers'] pockets, otherwise we'll see an exodus," he said. DoD would also use BRAC savings to fund weapons modernization, Cohen said.

Cohen has been pushing for two additional rounds of base closures since 1997. To date, DoD estimates it has saved $3.5 billion from the BRAC process and will save $25 billion by 2003 if Congress approves the additional closures.

Cohen used base closure success stories to prove his point that "BRACs need not be an economic death mill." The former Alameda Naval Air Station and Aviation Depot in Alameda, Calif., he noted, now is home to a film production company and several start-up technology firms. He also cited General Accounting Office findings that most post-BRAC communities have faster rising income and lower unemployment than the national average.

Cohen said that local action is the key to BRAC success. "You make base closures work and the function of base closures makes the military work," Cohen said to community leaders who have already survived the closure process.

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