May 2005: “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith” was released, as Jedi Knights Obi-Wan and Yoda were forced into hiding from the Galactic Empire. Also that month—though not in a galaxy far, far away—the last list of recommended base realignments and closures, or BRAC, was delivered to Congress.
Sixteen years later, another Star Wars trilogy has come out. But BRAC hasn’t been so lucky. Lawmakers have rejected it at least five times, despite multiple budget requests by the Pentagon.
Congress hasn’t merely stonewalled these requests. It’s requested three different studies of Department of Defense infrastructure which—when received—have been promptly smothered in the bowels of the Capitol. Ironically, each of these studies show that the department is sitting on a significant amount of excess infrastructure, costing billions of extra dollars each year.
It’s especially rich that Congress, which never misses an opportunity to bash the Pentagon for being wasteful of funds, repeatedly denies them the ability to adjust their facilities to meet their current missions.
But there may be some light at the end of the BRAC tunnel. The confirmation of a new deputy secretary of defense, Dr. Kathleen Hicks, brings a defense leader who has publicly advocated for another round of base realignments and closures to help the department become more efficient.
In her February 2020 Foreign Affairs article discussing the nation’s defense budget, Dr. Hicks stated that “(i)t has been 15 years since the last round of closures, and it is long past time for another one, which, after some upfront costs, could save several billion dollars every year.”
Back in the summer of 2017, Dr. Hicks also joined a bipartisan open letter on the need to authorize a new round of BRAC. That letter had a very clear call: “Congress should grant our military the authority to eliminate waste, and ensure that vital defense resources flow to where they are most needed.” That call is as relevant now as it was in 2017.
In the advance policy questions Dr. Hicks received from Congress prior to her hearings, she was asked about BRAC. In those answers she leaned in the importance of maintaining what makes the process work. In her own words: “The key will be maintaining the essence of the BRAC process by treating all installations equally, (… having) an independent Commission, (and keeping) the priority of military value.”
Congress can and should alter the elements that have not worked in the past, from the scope of the recommended actions to the costs of the process. It’s basically a matter of facing the reality of the Pentagon’s excess infrastructure and deciding to do something about it.
Further, a new BRAC round would allow military leaders to evaluate installations in the light of a new defense strategy that is fundamentally different from the strategy that guided the last 20 years. Military value, the main criteria to evaluate a military installation, is not a static measure.
The needs and expectations that we have for our nation’s military installations have changed in the last 16 years. There’s even a new military service with its unique installation needs—the Space Force.
It is past time that we reevaluate our military installations and how they are meeting the needs of our country. Now, as with most things in Washington, it’s a matter of political will. With Dr. Hicks on board, let’s hope it can finally get done—preferably before the next “Star Wars” movie is out.
This piece originally appeared in ArcaMax