Lawmakers Starting to See Value in a New BRAC Round
By Allyson Versprille
Members of Congress are increasingly starting to see the benefits of a new round of base realignment and closures, commonly referred to as BRAC, said the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.
"I think this whole notion that BRACs are stupid because they cost money is getting increasingly difficult to justify as an argument, as is the notion that somehow we can just do it with overseas bases," Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., told reporters July 9. "The notion that this was completely unacceptable, which existed about a year ago, is not there anymore amongst my fellow members."
The Defense Department has used BRAC to close more than 350 installations in five rounds from 1988 to 2005 as a way to more effectively reallocate troops at times when rapid military adjustments needed to be made. Following the 2005 round of closures and realignments, the Government Accountability Office estimated that the process cost about $35 billion to achieve only about $4 billion in net annual recurring savings.
These numbers have caused lawmakers to approach the idea of a fresh round of closures with skepticism, but recent appeals by defense community coalitions to consider doing a BRAC have shifted attitudes in Congress, said Smith. "What they have started to tell their members of Congress is do a BRAC because this death of a thousand cuts is worse," he said referring to recent attempts to deal with budget reductions by making dramatic military personnel cuts.
"Eventually we'll realize that we don't have as much money as we would like to have and at some point decisions have to be made," he said. Defense communities and an increasing number of lawmakers have realized that a BRAC is needed. It just needs to be legislated, Smith said.
Previous arguments against base closures including that they don't save enough money and that the U.S. needs to focus on its overseas basing infrastructure are beginning to lose steam, he added.
"We've reached the beginning of the end," he said. An increasing number of policy makers are realizing that this round of BRAC would have a small upfront cost with the potential for significant long-term savings. It is starting to become clearer that BRAC is important for the long-term health of U.S. national security, he said.
He also stressed that the closures can't just be relegated to overseas bases because "we need a forward presence to some extent." The world is still a dangerous place right now, he said.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, to a degree shares the view that a BRAC might be necessary, Smith said.
"He doesn't quite share it enough to say, 'It's still a good idea and it's something that we want to do,' but I think that there's an acknowledgment that at some point we need to get there," he said. "How exactly it is that he envisions getting there, much less when, I couldn't say."