By Bonnie Kristian
There are few foreign policy issues that could bring together experts from liberal interventionists, defense hawks, realists, and the libertarian fields —not to mention presidents as politically and stylistically different as Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) is the rare exception. Supported by the current and past administration alike, and newly endorsed in an open letter to Congress by a disparate collection of 45 defense experts, think tank leaders, and public intellectuals, BRAC is a project whose time is long overdue.
Per the Pentagon’s own assessment, 22 percent of the facilities operated by the Department of Defense are already no longer needed or will be unneeded by 2019. “The Army will be carrying the greatest excess overhead—33 percent according to the study—while the Air Force will have a 32 percent surplus,” the open letter notes. “The Navy and Marine Corps combined will have 7 percent surplus,” comparatively modest but still a substantial fiscal deadweight given the scale of American military might. Some of these holdings ceased to be useful years ago, with a fraction awaiting closure since the 1960s.
These unnecessary facilities are not a neutral facet of the DoD. They are a drag on our defense, a fiscal obligation leeching money that could be reassigned to more useful purposes. The DoD is looking for ways to streamline defense spending and become more cost-effective, and this strategy is much more responsible than the present institutionalization of waste.
While completing a BRAC round does cost some money up front, unloading redundant and otherwise extraneous bases soon pays for itself. The four BRACs completed since 1990 combine to produce annual savings of about $12 billion today, savings that quickly escalate and then level off after the initial closure costs.
Given the broad cross-partisan and presidential support, the commonsensical reader might at this point be forgiven for asking why an open letter had to be written at all. The answer is Congress, and specifically congressional obstinacy and self-service.
The Pentagon can close bases overseas—of which the United States maintains an enormous sprawl—of its own accord. It does not have the same authority with domestic closures, which require the approval of Congress. And Congress, of course, is a geographically-based institution infested with politicians whose BRAC vote calculations are heavily influenced by their perception of how closing a military base in the home district could influence their reelection prospects.
So aggressive is congressional obstructionism where BRAC is concerned that the omnibus spending bill passed at the end of 2015 included language specifically prohibiting the DoD from devoting any resources toward a new BRAC round.
This is where the coalition letter makes what cynicism suggests may be its most politically important argument: Yes, BRAC causes short-term economic disruption in communities where unneeded bases close. But the key word is “short.” Research of the economic impact of past BRACs “shows most communities recover, and some do so quite rapidly,” the letter notes. Almost all jobs are replaced and the “new jobs are in a variety of industries and fields, allowing communities to diversify their economies away from their excessive reliance on the federal government.”
In fact, a formal BRAC process gives communities more support and preparation time for this economic adjustment than the piecemeal downsizing that tends to happen in its absence.
BRAC is not a radical idea, nor is it especially political. It is a practical, prudent step toward fiscal responsibility, which has the added benefit of freeing up valuable dollars for higher valued purposes, like readiness and modernization. Right-sizing military bases is important for national security and saves billions of dollars each year in perpetuity. It’s high time Congress stop blocking these important Pentagon efficiencies.
Bonnie Kristian is a fellow at Defense Priorities. She is a weekend editor at The Week and a columnist at Rare, and her writing has also appeared at Time Magazine, CNN, Politico, Relevant Magazine, The Hill, and The American Conservative, among other outlets.
This piece was originally published by The Hill on July 1, 2017. Read more HERE.