Each year when Congress begins its budget discussions, the idea of closing bases and downsizing the Department of Defense’s (DoD) domestic infrastructure footprint seems to always resurface. This year is no different, the President’s 2018 Fiscal Year (FY) budget request asked for another round of BRAC (Base Realignment and Closures) beginning in 2021. This Administration like the one before sees BRAC as a necessary step in freeing up billions of dollars to be used in other ways for the U.S. Military.
On June 12th, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis testified before Congress that it should allow another round of domestic military base closings beginning in 2021. These types of proposals to close unnecessary bases have been offered by previous administrations of both parties and continue to be rejected by Members of Congress who have mobilized to save bases in their districts that pour large amounts of money into the local economies. To put into perspective the cost of this excess space, Secretary Mattis said that up to $2 billion could be saved annually with another round of BRAC to close the extra infrastructure space DoD claims to have that it does not need. The Department says it has more than 20% base capacity above its current needs. Secretary Mattis tried to get his point across to the House Armed Services Committee with various statistics of what could be bought with that $2 billion. “We forecast that a properly focused base closure effort will generate $2 billion or more annually – enough to buy 300 Apache attack helicopters, 120 F/A-1Ee/F Super Hornets, or four Virginia-class submarines.”
Once again, another President’s request for a BRAC round was quickly shot down by lawmakers from both parties. With few exceptions, the Department of Defense cannot close installations in the United States without permission from Congress. Since the end of the Cold War, the only way the Congress has allowed these closures to happen is through an independent commission.
As there seems to be very little appetite within Congress for another round of BRAC, there does remain influential Members of Congress who do support the closures, like Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA).
In the House Armed Services Committee’s “Chairman Mark”, Chairman Thornberry blocked the President’s request for another round of BRAC but did say that he was not opposed to another round if there is enough data provided to justify it.
The Senate Armed Services Committee also refuted the Trump Administration by adding Section 2702 to their version (S. 1519) of the NDAA that states: “SEC. 2702. PROHIBITION ON CONDUCTING ADDITIONAL BASE REALIGNMENT AND CLOSURE (BRAC) ROUND. Nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize an additional Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round.”
At this point in time, there are two amendments that have been filed to be offered to the 2018 House NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) when it goes to the House floor that address BRAC. One by a strong proponent of another BRAC round, Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), which would strike the provision in the bill prohibiting BRAC and establish a new process. The second was offered by Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA), which would remove the provision barring a new BRAC round entirely.
A BRAC round beginning in 2021 is Dead on Arrival in this year’s NDAA, but we know that each year that passes without closures or downsizing means that the Department of Defense will be that much adamant for it this time next year. The McKeon Group will maintain continuous tracking of this important issue if further developments occur through the floor amendment process in either the House or Senate.