Pentagon Asks Congress for Permission to Close Military Bases

But members have repeatedly blocked past attempts.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel responds to a question from a reporter at the Pentagon, September 18, 2013 in Arlington, Virginia.
National Journal
Jordain Carney
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Jordain Carney
Feb. 25, 2014, 4:29 a.m.

De­fense Sec­ret­ary Chuck Hagel is ask­ing for an­oth­er round of base clos­ures as part of the fisc­al 2015 budget re­quest — just don’t ex­pect mem­bers of Con­gress to go along quietly.

The top Pentagon of­fi­cial asked for a new round of base re­align­ment and clos­ure in 2017, but ac­know­ledged that he faces an up­hill fight on the Hill. “I am mind­ful that Con­gress has not agreed to our BRAC re­quests in the last two years,” Hagel said.

And it’s a fa­mil­i­ar fight for the de­part­ment, which asked for a round of BRAC when it presen­ted its budget last year, as well as the year be­fore that. But the idea was quickly shot down by mem­bers of Con­gress in both cham­bers and parties.

“The one thing on the Hill where I al­ways found un­an­im­ity is on op­pos­i­tion to BRAC,” Eric Fan­ning, the un­der­sec­ret­ary for the Air Force, said Tues­day morn­ing at a Wash­ing­ton de­fense con­fer­ence.

Fan­ning said Pentagon of­fi­cials have been on the Hill dis­cuss­ing the trade-offs the de­part­ment faces with the budget crunch.

Rising costs from a 2005 re­com­mend­a­tions for BRAC left some mem­bers of Con­gress hes­it­ant to try again. The BRAC 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.

But Hagel said that if Con­gress “con­tin­ues to block these re­quests even as they slash the over­all budget,” de­part­ment of­fi­cials will look for oth­er ways to re­duce in­fra­struc­ture.

And one of those op­tions is clos­ing bases in Europe, which aren’t sub­ject to the BRAC com­mis­sion’s ap­prov­al. Hagel said the Pentagon will pur­sue an­oth­er round of base clos­ings and re­align­ment based on re­com­mend­a­tions from the European In­fra­struc­ture Con­sol­id­a­tion Re­view this spring.

And Hagel noted that “in Europe, where BRAC au­thor­ity is not needed, we have re­duced our in­fra­struc­ture by 30 per­cent since 2000.”

There could be an­oth­er — ad­mit­tedly ob­scure — work-around.

House Armed Ser­vices staffer Vick­ie Plun­kett said at a con­fer­ence earli­er this month that Sec­tion 2687 of Title 10, which reg­u­lates the De­fense De­part­ment, would al­low the Pentagon to close bases and “only re­quires no­ti­fic­a­tion to Con­gress” be­fore the clos­ure takes place.

“The au­thor­it­ies only re­quire no­ti­fic­a­tion. Take your chances, be­cause it’s go­ing to re­quire us to get our act to­geth­er to stop it,” she said.

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