Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) is one of the most important-and controversial-issues affecting military transformation. U.S. basing infrastructure must be recalibrated to reflect America's forever changing national security requirements. President Bush has initiated another round of BRAC to eliminate excess basing infrastructure and free resources for the Pentagon's critical transformation initiatives. At a recent event co-hosted by The Heritage Foundation and the Minuteman Institute for National Defense Studies, experts examined the issues surrounding the 2005 round of BRAC.
The 2005 Round
There are two schools of thought on the current round of BRAC. One is that the Department of Defense has too much infrastructure and that money, resources, and personnel could be put to better use. The other view holds that with the U.S. military engaged in the war on terror, fighting in Iraq, and facing uncertain future threats, now is not the time for BRAC.
The Pentagon itself encourages the use of "best business practices," and it is worth looking at the situation from a business perspective. No business could survive supporting the excess infrastructure that currently burdens the Department of Defense. For that reason, and despite some concerns about timing and impact on operational readiness, most experts agree that 2005 is the right time for another round of BRAC.
Undertaking a round of BRAC at this time offers a number of advantages:
Advances transformation. BRAC is not just about closing and realigning bases, but also changing the way forces are supported and wars are fought. BRAC would help to focus resources on realigning, training, and moving a 21st century fighting force that has almost outgrown its 20th century support structure. This round of BRAC is intended to focus on realignment, not closure, and should have only a minimal impact on operational readiness.
Increases efficiency. To accomplish its transformation goals, the Department of Defense must change the ways that it supports troops, acquires hardware, repairs materiel, and manages its personnel. To afford these changes, it must eliminate excess overhead and infrastructure and address outdated business practices. BRAC is an important part of this process. Any large organization must be in the asset management business.
Strengthens the military industrial base. Eliminating excess overhead allows the private and public sectors of the defense industrial base to compete more successfully. BRAC allows companies that support national security to "take the slack out" and streamline their facilities, workforces, and so on.
Provides impetus to other economic development. There is no question that the first few years after a base closure or realignment can be extremely difficult for an affected community. But many communities where bases have closed or realigned have successfully adapted through community leadership, planning, and federal assistance and actually gone on to achieve higher rates of job and income growth.
The Role of the BRAC Commission
Past BRAC Commissions (in 1988, 1991, 1993, and 1995) have shared several similarities:
About 80 percent of the time, BRAC commissioners follow the Department of Defense's recommendations. But recent Commissions have become increasingly activist.
Commissions have been more inclined to delete bases from the Department of Defense's BRAC list rather than add their own.
Communities that fear they may be "on the list" are likely to follow the BRAC Commission's activities closely. Past rounds of BRAC show that if a community has a base on the list for realignment or closure, chances are high that that based will be realigned or closed. But if a community's base is not on the original list, it is unlikely to be added. Recent legislation requires a majority of seven commissioners, out of nine total, to add a base to the list. Communities should remember that Congress does not select individual bases for BRAC but only has the opportunity vote down the entire list. If Congress chooses not to vote, then the Commission's recommendations are automatically enacted.
Making the 2005 BRAC a Success
Participants provided the following suggestions for the success of this round of BRAC:
Continue to make BRAC decisions based on national defense and security requirements, not political considerations.
Ensure that uniformed military leadership, especially from the National Guard, is sufficiently represented in the process. The National Guard's state Adjutants General now have inadequate say in BRAC despite their vested interest in bases that may be BRAC candidates and the role that BRAC could play in resolving the imbalance between the active and reserve components.
The BRAC process should balance community concerns with training and operational requirements. Encroachment and environmental concerns may harm relationships between communities and the Department of Defense in the next 10 to 15 years. Those involved in BRAC should look ahead to these issues arising.
For more information on Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), see Heritage Foundation Executive Memorandum No. 953, "Defense Priorities for the Next Four Years," WebMemo No. 507, "BRAC Must Not Be Delayed," and Backgrounder No. 1716, " Guidelines for a Successful BRAC," all available on Heritage.org.
Jack Spencer is Senior Policy Analyst for Defense and National Security in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation. Kathy Gudge is, Research Assistant in Defense and National Security. This paper is based on presentations given at "Whither Base Closure? Next Steps for Congress," held at the National Guard Memorial Building on March 16, 2005.