The White House and the congressional Armed Services Committees have been engaging in a testy exchange–unusually so, given that Republicans control each–over the administration’s request to allow another round of DoD base closings.
Both the House and Senate versions of the DoD authorization bill–the House has approved its version (HR-2810) and the Senate could vote on its (S-1519) at any time–would reject the request for a round of closings and realignments in 2021, with preparatory work having to start much sooner. That was the latest in a line of similar requests from the Pentagon, which estimates that it has about a fifth too much capacity. It has projected a loss of some 26,000 DoD civilian jobs–and many thousands more likely would be relocated–based on the experience of prior rounds.
A White House statement says it “strongly objects” to denial of the request, saying another base realignment and closure round is needed “so that DoD can ensure it is not wasting scarce resources on unneeded infrastructure. The department estimates that a new BRAC round in 2021 would eventually save $2 billion annually–resources it could apply to higher priorities such as readiness and modernization.”
The House committee overseeing DoD responded with a statement noting that the bill containing the ban cleared the committee on a vote of 60-1 and saying that “no one believes that the current military force structure is adequate to meet the threats we face. In fact, senior commanders continually testify that our military is too small. Assessing our capacity based on an inadequate force structure makes no sense . . . Once you give up a base or capability, you may never get it back or it is incredibly expensive to replace.”
The Senate committee on its version says that “The committee must understand what our future force structure will look like–its size and composition, how it will train, and the infrastructure required to sustain it–before we consider another BRAC round. Our nation cannot afford to spend precious resources that are needed to improve readiness on another BRAC round, given funds are still being appropriated for prior BRAC rounds.”
However, a compromise plan is circulating in the Senate. It would change the traditional BRAC process by using the Pentagon’s own proposals, rather than those of a special commission, to produce the list of affected facilities that would be brought to a take it or leave it vote in Congress. There would be additional reporting requirements, scrutiny by the GAO, a limit on how much could be spent on up-front closing costs, and a requirement that each closing pay for itself within 10 years.
Such a plan could be offered during Senate voting although even if accepted there, the House would have to consent to it in a later conference between the two. During floor voting, the House rejected a bid to allow a round of closings under the prior process on a vote of 248-175, with majorities of both parties against it.