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.