White House threatens 'alternative options' to close military bases

White House threatens 'alternative options' to close military bases
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The Obama administration is threatening to take "alternative options" to close military bases if Congress continues through its annual defense bill to block the Pentagon from conducting another round of closures. 

The warning was part of a White House veto threat issued on Tuesday against a Republican defense policy bill the House plans to vote on this week. The massive 600-page bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act, authorizes Pentagon spending and activities in 2016. 

The bill prohibits Pentagon leaders from conducting a new round of base closures through a process known as Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, which the Department of Defense (DOD) has been trying to do for several years under budget constraints. 

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"In the absence of authorization of a new round of BRAC, the Administration will pursue alternative options to reduce this wasteful spending and ensure that DOD’s limited resources are available for the highest priorities of the warfighter and national security," a statement from the White House's budget office said. 

Pentagon officials say more than 20 percent of its military bases and infrastructure is underutilized and should be shut down or consolidated -- a move Congress opposes for its potential impact on local jobs and businesses in members' home districts. 

The "main avenue" available to the Pentagon would be a public law provision that would allow for base closures if certain conditions are met, according to the Pentagon comptroller. 

"It's an elaborate, suboptimal set of procedures you have to follow to try and close a base outside of BRAC," Pentagon Comptroller Mike McCord told reporters at a Feb. 12 roundtable with reporters. 

The conditions include an evaluation of the fiscal, local economic, budgetary, environmental, strategic and operational consequences of any base closures. 

It also includes submitting the criteria used to consider a military installation for closure, to include a study on the infrastructure of local communities to accommodate the changes, and the costs to upgrading infrastructure to accommodate the change. 

"It's very difficult to do, it's absolutely not preferred," McCord said. "It's a once a year opportunity to present a list of bases you might propose to close with a lot of analysis that has to be done."

But, he said, "It doesn't have the forcing function of BRAC," and Congress does not have to agree to the move. Even McCord said it might not work. 

"There's not much of a track record, but the message is that we do need to get on with this," he said. "I think it's absolutely understandable why we need to do this."

The same law also says the president could close or realign a military installation after certifying to Congress that such closure or realignment must be "implemented for reasons of national security or a military emergency." 

On Wednesday, Sen. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteGOP fears Trump backlash in suburbs Trump makes rare trip to Clinton state, hoping to win back New Hampshire Key endorsements: A who's who in early states MORE (R-N.H.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on readiness and management support, announced the Senate's version of the bill would also prohibit base closures. 

"We saw with the 2005 base realignment and closure round -- that whole round cost a lot more than anticipated, and we didn't see the cost savings that we thought we would achieve from that," she said Tuesday during the subpanel mark up.  

"So at a time when the department cannot afford to fully fund key readiness requirements, I do not approve giving the department the authority to pursue a BRAC round," she added. 

The Pentagon predicts it could save $2 billion by divesting 5 percent of excess infrastructure. Officials say the last BRAC round is now saving $4 billion per year.

The Pentagon has also been closing U.S. military base and excess infrastructure in Europe in hopes of paving the way for closures within the U.S.