Military Communities May Face a New Round of Base Closures

Defense policy insiders are warning that a new round of base closures and realignments may be inevitable. Congress has blocked efforts in recent years to downsize military installations; however, pressures to cut defense spending and address the nation’s deficit are increasing the likelihood that military communities may face a new round of closures or realignments.

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. A pivotal player in this process is the BRAC Commission, an independent entity created to avoid the political battles that ensue when a community faces a possible closure or realignment.

The Department of Defense presents a list of recommended closures and realignments to the BRAC Commission for approval. The proposed list is sent to the President for any recommended changes, and then onto Congress where it is automatically enacted into law unless Congress disapproves of the list in an up or down vote.  

More than 350 military installations have been closed or realigned in five previous BRAC rounds. These rounds occurred in 1988, 1991, 1993, 1995 and 2005.

The 2016 fiscal year National Defense Authorization Act—passed by the House and now being considered by the Senate—blocks the BRAC process from beginning in 2017.

Speaking to Congressional Quarterly in January, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry of Texas said, “We are still having a discussion in this country about what the role of the United States is in the world and about what sort of military capabilities we need to fulfill that role.”

“Once you give up a base or a training range, it’s gone forever,” Thornberry added.

The White House Office of Management and Budget, also known as OMB, has warned that the administration will find other ways to trim military installations if Congress continues to frustrate these efforts.

“In the absence of authorization of a new round of BRAC, the administration will pursue alternative options to reduce this wasteful spending and ensure that DOD's limited resources are available for the highest priorities of the warfighter and national security," the OMB said in a May 12 Statement of Administration Policy.

Base closures and realignments lead to significant savings for the federal government but create major socio-economic stress in military communities, which can take years to overcome. 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.

While Congress has thus far blocked a sixth BRAC round, political attitudes are beginning to change as the deficit grows. With the possibility of another round becoming increasingly likely, leaders of communities with military installations should examine what a new round of closures and realignments might mean for their citizens.