Congress, authorize fresh base closures to strengthen our military
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Having the right resources in the right place is a key part of military readiness. Imagine basing a squadron of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, in an area which severely limits unmanned flight. Their readiness would be drastically constrained.

Unfortunately, not all military resources are currently situated to maximize readiness. Congress and Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Trump returns to UN praising Kim | Iran in crosshairs later this week | US warns Russia on missile defense in Syria Bolton: Russian missile system sale to Syria a 'significant escalation' Overnight Defense: Trump identifies first soldier remains from North Korea | New cyber strategy lets US go on offense | Army chief downplays talk of 'Fort Trump' MORE can start to fix that by using Base Realignment and Closures (BRAC) to better manage infrastructure and forces. For the last five years, the Pentagon has sought congressional authority to conduct another round of BRAC and has been denied every year. This year, Congress should grant the request.

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Lucian Niemeyer, assistant secretary for energy, installations and environment at the U.S. Department of Defense, recently explained why at a Heritage Foundation panel discussion: “The BRAC process offers us the opportunity to address readiness by providing our forces the best possible ranges and installations for them to be stationed at.”

 

His fellow panelists Anthony Principi, chairman of the 2005 BRAC Commission, and Andrew Hunter, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, agreed that a new round of BRAC is needed to align our military infrastructure with the demands of the future force structure.

Since 1977, Congress has severely restricted the Defense Department authority to make decisions regarding the distribution of military bases in the country. The BRAC process was created as a political compromise between Congress and the executive branch to allow the department to close and realign military bases.

We’ve gone through five different BRAC rounds since then. The process has proved to be the best and really the only feasible tool available to Pentagon for reshaping its physical infrastructure. Since the 2005 round ended, however, Congress has refused to let the Defense Department use it.

Currently, the department estimates that it is carrying infrastructure of more than 20 percent excess capacity. Once Congress authorizes a new BRAC round, the Pentagon can do a more detailed assessment of its excess infrastructure and recommend which installations should be realigned or closed. As part of the BRAC methodology, the department folds into its recommendations an assessment of the optimal geographic distribution of its resources.

As Hunter pointed out in the panel discussion, both leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Chairman John McCainJohn Sidney McCainCongress must use bipartisan oversight as the gold standard The Hill's Morning Report — Ford, Kavanaugh to testify Thursday as another accuser comes forward Trump hits McCain on ObamaCare vote MORE (R-Ariz.) and Ranking Member Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedNew York Times: Trump mulling whether to replace Mattis after midterms Overnight Defense: Biden honors McCain at Phoenix memorial service | US considers sending captured ISIS fighters to Gitmo and Iraq | Senators press Trump on ending Yemen civil war Senators press Trump administration on Yemen civil war MORE (D-R.I.), want to move forward. Both have circulated an amendment to this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would authorize a new round of BRAC, and also modify some provisions of the law.

House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Mattis dismisses talk he may be leaving | Polish president floats 'Fort Trump' | Dem bill would ban low-yield nukes Dems introduce bill to ban low-yield nukes Dems seek ways to block Trump support for Saudi-led coalition in Yemen MORE (D-Wash.) also wrote BRAC authorizing legislation, demonstrating commitment and willingness to support a new round. Now, it is up to the congressional leadership to authorize a new round of BRAC, when the two houses meet in conference to discuss the NDAA.

As Principi noted, the BRAC process includes several provisions that help communities recover from adverse economic effects occasioned by a base closure or reduction. Historically, communities with bases on a BRAC list have not experienced the dire consequences initially forecast by naysayers. Instead, they’ve been able to recover nicely.

A new round authorized this year would enable the Defense Department to adapt its infrastructure to accommodate the force structure changes called for in the new national defense strategy. A BRAC round is not merely an exercise in closing bases to save money. It’s a process whereby the Defense Department conducts a holistic assessment of its physical infrastructure for military value, in order to distribute those assets for maximum effectiveness. By relocating missions to the installations in which they enjoy military comparative advantages, the process increases the preparedness of the force.

A new round would help the Pentagon better execute the concepts developed in the defense reviews that are now underway. Congress can and should be a partner in the transformation necessary to improve the readiness and lethality of our armed forces for years to come. Authorizing a new round of BRAC would be a great start.

Frederico Bartels is a policy analyst specializing in defense budgeting at The Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense.


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