The issue: No lawmaker wants to lose a facility is his or her district
Faced with a costly excess of military bases and facilities and a protective Congress’ refusal to close any of them, the Reagan administration came up with a plan that eventually was enshrined in the 1990 Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission Act.
UNDER BRAC, as it came to be known, an independent panel appointed by the president studied the existing stock of military bases and drew up a list of those that should be closed or consolidated.
Once the list was finalized, it was submitted to Congress, which then had 45 days to vote yea or nay on the entire package. There would be no piecemeal politicking of the kind that had frustrated earlier attempts at streamlining the defense establishment.
Rather surprisingly, it worked — perhaps too well. In five rounds of BRAC from 1989 to 2005, 350 installations were closed, leaving many communities without a major employer and often facilities that could not easily be converted to civilian use.
The last commission called for another round of closures in 2015 and then every eight years after that. Then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recommended two additional rounds of closures, but the House Armed Services Committee voted to cut off any more rounds after 2015.
As far as is known, at least publicly, there is no planning for a 2015 BRAC, although the Pentagon has said it would like to do one then and another in 2017.
DEFENSE SECRETARY Chuck Hagel has yet to speak out on it. But, given the difficulty he had getting confirmed, it seems unlikely that he would want to pick this particular fight with the lawmakers so soon after taking office.
The Congress-watching newspaper Politico offered a story headlined “Wary Congress Launches Pre-emptive BRAC Strike.” Lawmakers with defense installations that might be at risk are lining up to block any further closures, even though the Army plans to inactivate six brigade combat teams and the Navy, for cost reasons, may have to keep a carrier fleet or two in port.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., said, with some understatement, “I expect strong bipartisan opposition to any request for a BRAC round from the administration.”
That’s why the savvy voter will take a certain skepticism toward all this tough congressional talk about spending cuts. There are spending cuts and spending cuts and some aren’t cuts at all, particularly if it’s a military base in the district of a powerful lawmaker.