Politics

Congress Should Revise Base Closure Rules, Report Recommends

Heritage Foundation says lawmakers should authorize a new round

Congress should revise its rules on base closures, a new report from the Heritage Foundation recommends. (Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)

Congress should revise the rules guiding base realignment and closure and authorize a new round, a new paper from a conservative think tank recommended.

Done properly, a round of base realignment and closure, or BRAC, is a good example of federal efficiency, wrote Frederico Bartels, an analyst with the Heritage Foundation.

“It distinguishes itself among federal actions due to the potential of reducing fixed costs, while maintaining military value and obtaining congressional approval for the closure of federal installations in member districts,” the report published Thursday states.

In addition to authorizing a new round of BRAC as soon as possible, the report makes five recommendations for improving the process: make the assessment of Defense Department infrastructure biennial; give the Pentagon more standing authority to act; create a permanent BRAC staff; require reduction targets prior to each round; and maintain the BRAC commission as an independent mediator between administrations and Congress.

The five previous rounds of BRAC have produced up to $12 billion in annual savings, including $4 billion per year stemming from the most recent round in 2005, according to the Pentagon. But Congress must fund projects to shutter or repurpose military facilities up front, and the costs for the 2005 round swelled to $35.1 billion — up more than $10 billion from initial estimates, the Government Accountability Office found

Much of that overage stemmed from the implementation of just a few recommendations, with 14 of 182 total accounting for 72 percent of the cost overruns. During the 2005 round, the Pentagon prioritized modernization and joint bases among the military services over simply reducing excess infrastructure, the GAO report noted.

 

The Pentagon currently estimates it has 19 percent excess infrastructure capacity, as Defense Secretary James Mattis noted in a letter this month to leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees, urging them to authorize a more detailed analysis of the issue. The Pentagon could save as much as $2 billion annually with a new BRAC round, according to Pentagon estimates.

Although the White House included another round of BRAC in its fiscal 2018 budget request, lawmakers in both chambers declined to include it in the House and Senate versions of the annual defense policy bill.

Senate Armed Services chairman John McCain of Arizona and ranking member Jack Reed of Rhode Island proposed an amendment that would have capped BRAC expenditures at $5 billion. House Armed Services ranking member Adam Smith of Washington proposed detailed cost estimates for a new BRAC. But neither plan was included in their respective chamber’s bill.

“The case for authorizing a new Base Realignment and Closure process is extremely strong, even if we plan to substantially increase the size of the military,” Smith said in a prepared statement. “We are wasting taxpayer money to maintain buildings and facilities that the military does not need, while we drain away funds for readiness and weaponry that could keep our service members safe and our country secure.” 

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