House bans funds for base closures

Members of the House Armed Services Readiness subcommittee banned the Department of Defense from allocating any money toward a new round of closures through the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) commission. 

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None of the funding set aside for the military "may be used to propose, plan for, or execute an additional BRAC round," according to language in the subpanel's mark of the Department of Defense (DOD) fiscal 2014 spending bill. 

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel initiated planning for the new BRAC round earlier this year.

The move was part of the Pentagon's overall effort to trim its bottom line in the face of looming budget cuts under the White House's sequestration plan.

The last evaluation of the Army's massive network of military facilities took place in 2005. 

But as part of the fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress approved legislation blocking the Army and the rest of the armed forces from spending any funds to evaluate possible base closures.

As the fiscal 2014 DOD spending bill makes its way through Capitol Hill, lawmakers are again digging in for a fight with the Pentagon and White House over the issue. 

In the upper chamber, leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee say they don’t support new base closures. The chiefs of the panel’s Readiness subcommittee, which handles bases and infrastructure also rejected the idea last week. 

Critics of base closures say that paying the up-front costs would not be a wise move as sequestration continues to erode the department's ability to execute missions around the world. 

They question the Defense Department's claims of savings by pointing to the 2005 BRAC round, which cost $14 billion more than anticipated, and argue further cuts to infrastructure in foreign bases should be made before domestic installations are shuttered.

“I don’t think the majority of the members can be convinced at this point,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the former ranking member of the Armed Services panel, told reporters in April.

However, the DOD and service leaders are growing increasingly frustrated with lawmakers' opposition to BRAC. 

Congressional opposition to base closures is forcing the Army to waste millions of dollars on aging facilities, Army Secretary John McHugh told reporters in April. 

Congress's ban on DOD dollars being used for base closure assessments are forcing the Pentagon to spend millions on upkeep on of military bases that are “simply unusable," he said at the time. 

In a thinly veiled shot at Capitol Hill, McHugh said basing BRAC decisions on nearly decade-old data simply "does not provide us the [evidence] to make informed judgments.”