Hagel urges more base closures, troop benefit cuts

Defense Secretary Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelFormer US Defense secretary: 'American global leadership now is really nowhere' Meet Trump’s pick to take over for Mattis at Pentagon Juan Williams: Trump is AWOL on our troops MORE is calling on lawmakers to approve a new round of military base closures and limit troop benefits to give the Pentagon flexibility to address its budget woes.

“The longer we defer the tough choices, the tougher they will be to make down the road and the more brutal the outcome,” Hagel warned Saturday at the Reagan Defense Forum in Simi Valley, Calif.

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“Without the ability to make programmatic adjustments like retiring aging aircraft, and without base realignment and closure, the department will face a bill of about $30 billion over fiscal years 2016 to 2020.”

Hagel said the Pentagon has 24 percent more facilities than needed, “costing us billions of dollars every year, money that could otherwise be invested in maintaining our military's edge.”

“Despite numerous efforts and almost ten years since the last round, DOD has been unable to secure another round of base realignment and closure,” said Hagel.

“We need Congress to help end this excess spending,” he continued. 

Congress has blocked the Pentagon’s request to close bases the last two years as lawmakers worry that authorizing a base-closing commission could lead to facilities in their districts getting the axe.

The administration proposed a new round of base closures in its 2015 defense budget, however, both House and Senate lawmakers threw out the request in their respective markups of the national defense authorization act.

Hagel also implored lawmakers to back proposed reforms to military pay and compensation.

“No one who wears our nation's uniform is overpaid … But since 2001, DOD's pay and benefits for service members has outstripped private sector compensation growth by about 40 percent,” he said.

In its fiscal year 2015 budget submission, the Pentagon put forward a package of cost savings measures, including consolidating TRICARE, the health plan for military families, and requiring troops to pay more of their housing costs. The plan also slashed direct subsidies for commissaries, where soldiers and their families can buy heavily discounted goods.

Lawmakers rejected those proposals, arguing that they did not want to get ahead of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, which is scheduled to report its own recommendations on troop benefits next February.

Hagel raised the specter of sequestration, which is due to return in fiscal 2016 and could slash as much as $500 billion from the Pentagon’s coffers over 10 years.

“Congress has an opportunity this year to help the Defense Department, and all the leaders of DOD and I will work closely with Congress on this issue as we address the realities of what this fiscal pressure is doing to this institution and to our future security,” he said.