Pentagon’s base closure list will be hard to challenge

Legal changes make it harder for independent commission to add bases to the hit list.

The rules governing removing a base from the list remain relatively unchanged from the past four rounds. To strike a base from the list, the commission must demonstrate that the Pentagon deviated substantially from future force structure projections and the criteria used to decide what bases are closed or realigned. There's no set rule for how many votes are needed to remove a base from the list, but in the past, a majority vote has been required to overturn a Pentagon decision.

Military bases that are spared when the Pentagon submits its base realignment and closure hit list later this month will be able to breathe easier than bases in previous rounds, because it will be harder this time for the independent BRAC Commission to add bases to the Defense Department's list.

Several BRAC lobbyists and experts, speaking on condition they not be named, said legal changes give the Pentagon more power than before in crafting lists.

The nine-member BRAC commission will review the Pentagon's work at a series of public hearings over the next several months, the first of which took place Tuesday. The panel has until Sept. 8 to make final recommendations to the president. If the president approves the list, it will be forwarded to Congress, which then has 45 legislative days to accept or reject it. In previous BRAC rounds in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995, the commission accepted about 85 percent of the Pentagon's recommendations for closure or realignment. But sometimes the panel made unexpected changes. The most famous came in 1995, when the BRAC panel surprised the Air Force and hundreds of civilian defense workers in San Antonio and Sacramento by recommending that two of the service's five depots be closed. This time, it will be harder for the commission to make such changes, due to a series of provisions in the law authorizing the current BRAC round. They include the following requirements:

  • That seven out of the nine commissioners vote to add a base to the list or expand a proposed realignment. In the past, only five had to support any additions.
  • That two BRAC commissioners visit any base that the panel is even considering closing or realigning. In the past, only a single commissioner needed to visit a base -- and only after the panel had agreed to add it to the list.
  • That the BRAC panel give the Defense secretary 15 days to testify or provide a written response about any additions being considered. In the past, no such requirement existed.