Despite reassurances from outgoing U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, there are reasons to be concerned that the Pentagon may yet again target the Naval Submarine Base in Groton for closing. And there are certainly reasons to be diligent.
While Washington lawmakers are initially showing resistance to the president's call for beginning a Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process (in fact the administration proposes two, one in 2013 and another in 2015), as pressure increases to address the nation's growing deficit, Congress will likely embrace sizable defense cuts and closing bases can achieve them. Expect an odd coalition of fiscal conservatives and liberals hoping to save social programs from deep cuts to emerge and authorize a BRAC.
The process is a dangerous one for lawmakers, who could find themselves explaining to constituents why they lost a base in their backyard. Once a base is on the Pentagon's closure list, it can only be saved if the independent base closure commission removes it. After the commission finalizes the list, Congress votes the entire package up or down. Congress created the process knowing that without it the party in control would cherry pick bases in favored districts off the list, military value aside.
The Groton base avoided closing in 2005 after a bipartisan effort by state political leaders and their partners in the private sector persuaded the closure commission of the base's military value and its important relationship with submarine manufacturer Electric Boat.
In a meeting with our editorial board on Thursday, Sen. Lieberman, who is not seeking re-election in November, said he considered the odds of the base finding itself on a BRAC list as low. Reassuring Sen. Lieberman were conservations he had with Adm. John Greenert, chief of naval operations, in which the admiral reiterated the long-term military importance of the base.
Yet as pressure grows to find ways to trim the growth of defense spending, the Pentagon may well have to sacrifice weapon systems and facilities that, while militarily important, are less important than others. With the rise of China, attention is shifting to the Asia-Pacific. The Pentagon could potentially see three east coast bases as an unaffordable luxury. The other facilities are the Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia and Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in Georgia.
That's the concern. The good news is that this region is in a far better position to make a case for the Groton base than it was during the last BRAC process. Since the last round of closings more than $150 million has been spent to improve the facility, including unprecedented contributions by the state. Connecticut has an Office of Military Affairs to help make its case, an office that did not exist last time, and a consulting firm ready to work Pentagon channels.
More than 30 people Thursday attended a meeting of the reformed Subase Coalition, showing Connecticut and the region are ready to take a proactive approach, in contrast to the scramble to form a coalition after the surprise news of the base's appearance on the closure list last time. Rep. Joe Courtney sits on the Armed Services Committee in the House, Sen. Richard Blumenthal on the same committee in the Senate.
We would like to learn Sen. Lieberman had it right, the odds are long and Groton never appears on the closure list. But as even he cautioned, its best to be prepared and it appears the state and region are.