Congress Hates Military-Base Closings, but Can Chuck Hagel Do It Without Their Approval?

The Defense secretary says he is studying his options.

The entrance to Camp Justice at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
National Journal
Jordain Carney
Add to Briefcase
Jordain Carney
March 5, 2014, 12:12 p.m.

The Pentagon’s budget sets up an up­hill battle with Con­gress by re­quest­ing fur­ther do­mest­ic base clos­ures and re­align­ment, but the De­fense De­part­ment’s top of­fi­cial could try to give mem­bers the slip.

As part of the de­part­ment’s 2015 fisc­al-year budget re­quest, the Pentagon wants a round of base clos­ures and re­align­ment — known as BRAC — for U.S. bases in 2017.

“We think BRAC is a smart po­s­i­tion to have, as you know we have called for it again, we’re go­ing to con­tin­ue work through all this,” De­fense Sec­ret­ary Chuck Hagel said at an Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee hear­ing Wed­nes­day. “I’ve got some op­tions as sec­ret­ary of De­fense in law “¦ through a sec­tion of Art­icle 10.”

The sec­ret­ary didn’t spe­cify what op­tions he could have in re­gard to re­du­cing over­head, but a House staffer sug­ges­ted last month that un­der a pro­vi­sion of fed­er­al law deal­ing with the De­fense De­part­ment, Hagel could close bases and only have to no­ti­fy Con­gress be­fore­hand — rather than ask its per­mis­sion.

If the sec­ret­ary wants to close a base with at least 300 ci­vil­ian em­ploy­ees or cut more than 1,000, or more than 50 per­cent, of ci­vil­ian jobs at a base, he must no­ti­fy the Armed Ser­vices com­mit­tees as part of the de­part­ment’s an­nu­al budget re­quest, ac­cord­ing to fed­er­al law.

That no­ti­fic­a­tion must in­clude an “eval­u­ation of the fisc­al, loc­al eco­nom­ic, budget­ary, en­vir­on­ment­al, stra­tegic, and op­er­a­tion­al con­sequences of such clos­ure or re­align­ment.”

What Con­gress could do to stop Hagel is un­clear, but Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., has pressed Pentagon of­fi­cials — in­clud­ing Bob Work, the pres­id­ent’s deputy De­fense sec­ret­ary nom­in­ee — to cla­ri­fy where any leg­al au­thor­ity the Pentagon could have comes from.

“I be­lieve that Con­gress should be in the po­s­i­tion to ap­prove BRAC, and there should not be a run­around done,” Ayotte said last week.

As Pentagon of­fi­cials have ac­know­ledged, mem­bers are loath to close bases that could cost jobs back in their home states and would cost money up front be­fore sav­ings kick in. Deputy De­fense Sec­ret­ary Christine Fox said be­fore the budget was re­leased that De­fense of­fi­cials were hear­ing that their base-clos­ure re­quest would be “dead on ar­rival.”

Rising costs from a 2005 re­com­mend­a­tion for a round of base clos­ure and re­align­ment left some mem­bers of Con­gress hes­it­ant to try again. A com­mis­sion ori­gin­ally es­tim­ated that it would cost the Pentagon $21 bil­lion to fol­low its re­com­mend­a­tions, but, ac­cord­ing to a 2012 GAO re­port, the cost ended up around $35.1 bil­lion.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., touched on that dur­ing Wed­nes­day’s hear­ing, adding that she “cer­tainly strongly dis­agrees with an­oth­er BRAC round at this time.”

But the De­fense De­part­ment is plan­ning to fol­low forth­com­ing re­com­mend­a­tions to close or re­align bases across Europe, which aren’t sub­ject to con­gres­sion­al ap­prov­al. The Pentagon has re­duced its in­fra­struc­ture in Europe by 30 per­cent since 2000.

But Shaheen sug­ges­ted that mem­bers of Con­gress do need to know what re­com­mend­a­tions are be­ing made about base clos­ures in Europe, and throughout the world, be­fore they can con­sider re­quests to close or re­align bases in their own back­yards.

And Rep. Mi­chael Turn­er, R-Ohio, sug­ges­ted dur­ing his ques­tion­ing at a House Armed Ser­vices sub­com­mit­tee hear­ing Wed­nes­day that the European bases are cent­ral to the mil­it­ary’s over­all mis­sion.

Gen­er­al Dav­id Rodrig­uez, head of the U.S. Africa Com­mand, agreed, say­ing the bases are “crit­ic­al for our mis­sion in Africa.”

What We're Following See More »
ANOTHER GOP MODERATE TO HER SIDE
John Warner to Endorse Clinton
10 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton will score another high-powered Republican endorsement on Wednesday, according to a campaign aide: retired senator John Warner of Virginia, a popular GOP maverick with renowned military credentials."

Source:
AUTHORITY OF EPA IN QUESTION
Appeals Court Hears Clean Power Plant Case
10 hours ago
THE LATEST

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Tuesday "heard several hours of oral arguments" over the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan rules. The 10-judge panel "focused much of their questioning on whether the EPA had overstepped its legal authority by seeking to broadly compel this shift away from coal, a move the EPA calls the Best System of Emission Reduction, or BSER. The states and companies suing the EPA argue the agency doesn’t have the authority to regulate anything outside of a power plant itself."

Source:
$28 MILLION THIS WEEK
Here Come the Ad Buys
10 hours ago
THE LATEST

"Spending by super PACs tied to Donald Trump friends such as Ben Carson and banker Andy Beal will help make this week the general election's most expensive yet. Republicans and Democrats will spend almost $28 million on radio and television this week, according to advertising records, as Trump substantially increases his advertising buy for the final stretch. He's spending $6.4 million in nine states, part of what aides have said will be a $100 million television campaign through Election Day."

Source:
GOP REFUSED VOTE ON FCC COMMISIONER
Reid Blocks Tech Bill Over “Broken Promise”
15 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Monday night's debate may have inspired some in Congress, as Senate Minority Leader has decided to take a stand of his own. Reid is declining to allow a vote on a "bipartisan bill that would bolster U.S. spectrum availability and the deployment of wireless broadband." Why? Because of a "broken promise" made a year ago by Republicans, who have refused to vote on confirmation for a Democratic commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission to a second term. Harry Reid then took it a step further, invoking another confirmation vote still outstanding, that of Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland.

Source:
FLINT FUNDING STILL AT ISSUE
Spending Bill Fails to Clear 60-Vote Hurdle
17 hours ago
THE LATEST
×