Congress Considers New Round of Base Closures

Defense policy insiders are warning that a new round of base closures and realignments may be inevitable.  For five consecutive years, Congress has rejected requests from the Department of Defense (DoD) for authority to shutter excess military installations.

Congress established the base realignment and closure, or BRAC, process to better confront the demands of a post-Cold War world, as well as reduce the costs of maintaining the nation’s military infrastructure.  The last BRAC round occurred in 2005. According to the most recent DoD report, the department has 22% excess infrastructure capacity. In DoD’s fiscal year 2018 budget request, the Pentagon has again asked for the authority to initiate a new base closure round in 2021.

House lawmakers recently sent the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to the Senate.  The House-passed bill, which specifies the budget and expenditures of the DoD, does not include authorization for the requested BRAC round.  However, the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John McCain and Jack Reed, have filed an amendment to the bill authorizing a new round. The Senate may vote on the proposal this week, which if passed, would set the table for interesting conference negotiations between the two chambers.

Many House lawmakers, including the influential House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry of Texas, have argued in the past that the savings from past BRAC rounds have not covered the upfront costs of closures. When asked about the proposal, Chairman Thornberry said last week at a Defense News Conference, “I’ll definitely look at it. I’ve got some basic questions. How much is it going to cost? If you’re going to have another BRAC, what size is your Army? What size is your Navy? How much wiggle room do you want to leave for contingencies that may happen?”

While BRAC can lead to significant savings for the federal government, it can also create socio-economic stress locally. Property taxes, sales taxes, licenses and permits, and state and federal aid are influenced by population losses associated with base closures and realignments, which detrimentally affect the provision of local governmental services. Real estate values, small businesses and schools are also affected, and the complex environmental restoration of former installations can take years.

State officials of communities with military installations should be preparing for and examining what a new round of closures might mean for their citizens.