House’s Refusal to Reassess Military Bases Will Lead to Unnecessary Costs

COMMENTARY Homeland Security

House’s Refusal to Reassess Military Bases Will Lead to Unnecessary Costs

Jul 19, 2017 2 min read

Former Senior Policy Analyst, Defense Budgeting

Frederico was a senior policy analyst for defense budgeting in The Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense.
Defense Secretary James Mattis, right, asked for a new round of base realignment and closure in June before the House Armed Services Committee. Ken Cedeno/Zuma Press/Newscom

In passing its version of the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, the House of Representatives shot down the Pentagon’s plans to make more efficient use of its resources by reassessing military bases.

The legislative body decided to maintain the prohibition on conducting a new round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), even though U.S. military leaders argue it is a crucial measure to save precious defense dollars.

The rejection of BRAC was fueled by arguments that ignore how the process actually takes place and how Congress can shape and guide it toward the intended goals.

The main concerns expressed by House Members revolved around cutting military infrastructure at the beginning of a proposed defense rebuilding, and how to ensure that the BRAC process actually delivers meaningful savings.

These are valid concerns that can and should be tackled by Congress and the Department of Defense.

While it is reasonable to be concerned about reducing infrastructure at the same time the military is proposed to grow, such issues can be easily solved. Defense Secretary James Mattis has stated that the Pentagon is currently developing a new national defense strategy that should influence the size and capabilities for our future military.

By the time the BRAC process has been proposed to take place in 2021, all such decisions will have been made and provisions made to ensure that needed facilities will not be closed.

Nonetheless, the BRAC process needs to be authorized now to be ready to take place in 2021.

Furthermore, past BRAC processes have shown that they typically reduce about 5 percent of infrastructure, while today the Pentagon estimates it has an excess of 22 percent in infrastructure.

Thus, there is little danger of this proposed BRAC closing a base that the military might need now or in the future.

Critics repeat a worry that a future round of BRAC could result in high costs without significant savings. They point to the 2005 BRAC round which did suffer from that problem.

Nonetheless, this outcome was driven mostly by changed construction requirements imposed on a small percentage of the recommendations of the commission, not the concept of BRAC generally.

Out of the commission’s 182 total recommendations, 14 were responsible for over 72 percent of the cost increases.

Congress should support a new round of BRAC that requires every recommendation to realize savings within a determined time period. Additionally, Congress can also mandate that the Pentagon develop better cost estimate tools to avoid unforeseen cost overruns.

The concerns raised by the House of Representatives in rejecting a new round of BRAC are easily solved. They are not reasons to throw out the process.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, statedthat he is “interested in real, updated, data-driven study of our excess infrastructure.” So are the proponents of BRAC.

In fact, as part of the BRAC process, the secretary of defense and the Government Accountability Office need to certify that there is indeed excess infrastructure.

However, this certification can only take place once the BRAC process has been authorized and the department is allowed to develop deeper studies into how it utilizes its infrastructure.

Now that the House has actively rejected BRAC, the Senate has a chance correct this misstep.

The Senate ought to engage in a serious conversation about how to improve the BRAC process, recognizing that it is a useful tool to save money and increase military capability.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal