Senators push back against proposal for more base closures

Lawmakers on a key Senate committee are skeptical over the Defense Department’s proposal for a new round of military base closures.

“My going-in position is: I’m opposed to a new Base Realignment and Closure [BRAC] process,” said Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteNew Hampshire governor signs controversial voting bill Former Arizona senator to shepherd Supreme Court nominee through confirmation process Shut the back door to America's opioid epidemic MORE (R-N.H.), chairwoman of the Senate Armed Services Readiness and Management Support subpanel, during a Wednesday hearing.

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She cited the last BRAC round that occurred in 2005, which ended up costing the Pentagon over $35 billion to achieve roughly $4 billion in future annual savings. 

“I come with a dislike for the BRAC process to begin with, so this is going to be a case of convincing me that it’s the right thing to do,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) told Pentagon officials.

Rounds was governor of South Dakota when Ellsworth Air Force Base was targeted, but eventually saved, in the last round.

Sen. Martin HeinrichMartin Trevor HeinrichCNN congressional correspondent talks about her early love of trolls and family Overnight Energy: DNC to reject fossil fuel donations | Regulators see no security risk in coal plant closures | Senate committee rejects Trump EPA, Interior budgets Energy commission sees no national security risk from coal plant closures MORE (D-N.M.) said lawmakers are “skeptical about our bases being hollowed out.” 

The Pentagon wants the new round of military closures to begin in 2017. A BRAC panel established by Congress would examine Defense Department installations and determine which should be shuttered.

Congress has blocked the Pentagon’s request to close bases in recent years, as lawmakers worry that a base-closing commission could axe facilities in their own districts.

The Pentagon estimates the new round would cost around $6 billion to implement and that trimming infrastructure by just 5 percent could save roughly $2 billion annually.

John Conger, acting assistant secretary of Defense for installations, admitted that the 2005 process was “unpopular” and “expensive” but that much of those closures were tied to transforming the military’s footprint, not cost-savings.

He promised that the Defense Department could conduct an “efficiency BRAC round” that mirrors those that took place in the 1990s.

Katherine Hammack, Assistant Secretary Of the Army for Installations, Energy And Environment said the service has around 20 percent excess capacity.

Miranda Ballentine, who holds the same post in the Air Force, told the panel her branch had around 30 percent excess capacity.

Conger said the Pentagon doesn’t have a list of installations it would close “in the hopper” and that such determinations would be made by the services themselves and would target the sites with the “lowest military value.”

Ayotte said BRAC was “created as a cop out” to get lawmakers out of making hard decisions about the future of military bases.