The politics behind the reluctance of Congress to authorize another round of base closings is understandable. Under the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process, once a base ends up on the final list for closing or reduction in size, individual lawmakers have little power to stop it. The entire list must be voted up or down. Congress recognized in passing the rules that doing it any other way would lead to political maneuvering and cherry picking which bases to save. The process would unravel.
But that makes setting the BRAC process in motion a dangerous gamble. No congressman or senator wants to end up with a base closing in his or her backyard, with the resulting economic damage and political fallout. So it is better not to start the process at all, seems to be the prevailing mood in Congress.
Certainly the senators and congressmen from Connecticut know base and closure are bad words in these parts. Southeastern Connecticut had a near base closing experience in 2005 when the Naval Submarine Base in Groton ended up on the closing list during the last BRAC. In a bipartisan effort, Connecticut officials in and out of politics scrambled to make the case for the base and its military importance, leading to the commission removing Groton from the list before its presentation to Congress.
No surprise then that Second District Rep. Joe Courtney and Connecticut's Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, all Democrats, count themselves among those having no interest in another BRAC. During a recent chamber event, Rep. Courtney said he sees little prospect that Congress will heed President Obama's call for a new round of military base closures beginning in 2015.
This is one time, at least, that political considerations line up with practicality. In a 2012 review the Government Accountability Office reported that the savings from the last round of base closings that followed the 2005 BRAC are falling far short of expectations. One big reason is the Pentagon did not do a good job of accounting for costs. One dramatic example is the $24.7 billion in new construction or renovation required as the Department of Defense moved 123,000 personnel from closed bases to operating ones.
The GAO found costs to implement the BRAC recommendations grew from the $21 billion originally estimated to about $35 billion, a 67 percent increase. Savings, meanwhile, were less than expected. According to the GAO, the Department of Defense will not recoup its upfront costs in closing down bases and relocating personnel until 2018, five years later than the BRAC Commission estimated.
It makes sense then to give the 2005 BRAC more time to play out, and to learn lessons from it, before forging ahead with more domestic base closings.
We agree with Rep. Courtney that a more promising target for savings are the hundreds of U.S. military bases overseas. While certainly many of these bases play a vital national security role in assuring that the United States can project its military forces globally as needed, others were developed to deal with threats that no longer exist and in a world that has dramatically changed.
And, face it, closing a base overseas will always be more politically palatable for a U.S. politician.