Another Run at Base Closings to Be Attempted

As the Senate has taken up its version of the annual DoD authorization bill (S-1519), a compromise amendment has been offered to allow further closings and realignments of facilities of the sort that in the past caused the loss or transfer of tens of thousands of civilian DoD jobs.

The amendment is designed to break a long-running standoff between the Pentagon, which has repeatedly made such request for years, and Congress, which has just as often denied them. Already this year the House has voted several times to deny the administration’s request for a closings round to occur in four years–with preliminary planning needed to start much sooner–and the Senate bill as it emerged from the Armed Services Committee there also would deny the request.

However, an amendment offered for Senate floor voting, sponsored by committee chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., seems to address problems that arose in past rounds including higher than expected upfront costs and lower than projected long-term savings. Under his plan, DoD itself, rather than a commission, would produce the list of candidates for closings and consolidations as soon as next year, subject to a number of restrictions including that enough excess capacity be retained to accommodate potential future surge. There would limits on how much could be spent and requirements for recovering those costs within set timeframes; and a requirement that Congress vote affirmatively to approve the package rather than the traditional arrangement in which the package once approved by the commission took effect automatically unless blocked by Congress.

In comments on the bill, the Trump administration said a new round of closings is needed to assure that DoD is “not wasting resources on unneeded infrastructure” that could instead be “devoted to higher priorities such as readiness and modernization.” In requests for more base closings dating back well into the Obama administration, the Pentagon has repeatedly made a similar argument, saying that it has more than 20 percent excess capacity.