The Defense Department should be ashamed of this round of BRAC cuts

Only a weekend after members of Congress returned to their districts for August recess, the fiscal blitzkrieg on our military began. In the Pentagon, a small circle of individuals took the first step in their long-planned strategy.  With one hour until the media announcement, after it was already being reported in the news, a perfunctory call was placed to the affected congressional representatives. Sixty minutes later, the Secretary of Defense announced to a waiting press corps his unprecedented plan to shutter one of our nation’s ten military commands. With only his words as justification, he would reverse a 25-year course towards jointness, eliminate tens of thousands of jobs, reprogram millions of defense dollars, and transfer 1.1 million service members to another command. 

The terminology is different, but make no mistake, the base realignment and closure process has begun again. The goal of this round of Base Realignment and Closures (BRAC) will be the same: the dismantling and closure of our military installations. But after straining and creaking under the crushing fiscal weight of a two-year social spending binge, the Department of Defense’s process will be far from familiar. Unlike the closure process set forth by statute and envisioned as fair and open, this process will be much different. Members of Congress should be warned that, left unchecked, they can expect a steady tide of security-dismantling moves. The new BRAC will be:

Abrupt:

The new BRAC process will be politically calculated and timed for minimal input from installations, lawmakers, communities and stakeholders. As with the August recess announcement of the closure of U.S. Joint Forces Command, new closures will be timed and executed specifically to hamstring the ability of members and stakeholders to react.  

Unilateral:

The new base closure process will be unilateral.  Determinations will be made by a handful of advisers. No analysis, information or criteria will be provided before and only department-scrubbed talking points will be released afterward.
Large-Scale: The new BRAC process will be bold. It will use legal alchemy to bypass the letter and spirit of the BRAC law. It will affect tens of thousands of people at a time, delivering devastating and wide-ranging blows to military communities and to our national security.

Closed:

Just as the planning will be concealed, so, too, will the implementation of new BRAC decisions. To date, the Department of Defense refuses to release the original legal justifications for their unprecedented move. They refuse requested witnesses for oversight hearings. And they unabashedly admit they have no cost-benefit analysis for the very move they first touted for its “efficiency” benefits. 

Putting aside the questionable legality of the department’s new base closure process and the contempt the move exhibits towards the Armed Services Committees, the new BRAC process shows manifest disregard for the thoughtful planning that should mark any wide-ranging decision that affects American security.  

The success of “Blitzkrieg BRAC,” however, relies heavily on the department’s calculated expectation that Members of Congress are too narrow-sighted and self-interested to stand against the wholesale auctioning of our military. With attentions on Capitol Hill dominated by election considerations, the department anticipates members will gloss over their precedent-setting decision, disregarding them as parochial, rather than recognizing the blanket disregard for Congress’s constitutional oversight responsibilities.

The department’s closed-door calculations, however, are already beginning to unravel. Members from California, Michigan, North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida have expressed concern. Budget and Armed Services Committees have scheduled hearings and, should the House come under new leadership this fall, a targeted oversight campaign will be launched to shed light on the unrestrained social spending that is jeopardizing our nation’s security. 

The Department of Defense ought to be ashamed. They ought to grieve the loss of trust, respect and credibility that their actions have inflicted. Had they taken a different course, they could have partnered with congressional advocates who want not only efficiencies in the department, but who are fighting to stop the overall spending hemorrhage that continues to threaten the department’s mission. They could have stood with many in Congress — long their allies and champions — who want to eliminate waste and spur much-needed investments in shipbuilding, ship maintenance and infrastructure.  

Members would be wise to act quickly, giving the department’s actions the scrutiny a move of this magnitude deserves. With $100 billion of national security investment on this administration’s chopping block, a failure to do so will result, at best, in precedence for a unilateral BRAC process, and at worst, the systematic dismantling of the greatest military in the world.
 
Rep. Forbes is the ranking member of the House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee.