Lawmakers offer defense bill amendments to lift BRAC ban

House Armed Services ranking Democrat Adam Smith (Wash.) is forcing a conversation on closing and consolidating military bases after the full committee last month voted on an annual defense policy bill that prohibits such a move. 

Smith has filed an amendment that would strike down language in the House’s fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) prohibiting a Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round.

Smith’s amendment would replace that language with a section “that would authorize a fair, transparent process to allow the Department of Defense to consolidate, close, or realign military installations within the United States and realize efficiencies and savings that can be reinvested into critical military requirements,” according to the amendment’s description.

The detailed, 102-page amendment would also set up a new BRAC process, which would include a force structure plan from the defense secretary that certifies “whether the need exists for the Department to consolidate, close, or realign military installations.”

Smith, long a BRAC proponent, in January introduced a standalone bill that is nearly identical to his latest amendment.

Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.), meanwhile, offered an amendment that would only remove the NDAA provision barring a new BRAC round. 

The Defense Department estimates that by 2019 it will have more than 20 percent excess capacity, primarily in the Air Force and Army, according to an April 2016 Pentagon report to Congress.

Pentagon officials want to save money by shuttering the unused or underused facilities with a BRAC. Officials can’t do that without first gaining permission from lawmakers.

The last round of BRAC was in 2005, but NDAAs since then have explicitly banned another round because of the potential for negative economic effects on the communities around bases. That makes supporting a BRAC round politically difficult for lawmakers.

Upfront costs of such an undertaking weighs against future savings.

The Trump administration has requested Congress authorize another BRAC, saying it could save an estimated $2 billion annually by 2027. 

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