Defense Budget Experts Urge Congress to ‘Trim’ Excess Military Bases

The Associated Press

Nearly 50 defense budget experts are urging Congress to consider another round of military base closures, arguing that keeping excess infrastructure is wasting “tens of billions of taxpayers’ dollars” and hurting the military.

“The military has been forced to allocate resources away from the training and equipping of our soldiers, and toward maintaining unneeded and unwanted infrastructure,” they argued in an open letter sent to lawmakers on Monday.

They also argued that holding on to excess military infrastructure is actually hurting communities more than if it were closed or consolidated under the formal consolidation process known as BRAC, or base realignment and closure.

In the letter, the experts — both Democrats and Republicans — argued, “BRAC has proven to be a fair and efficient process for making the difficult but necessary decisions related to the configuration of our military’s infrastructure.”

The move comes as members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees are preparing their annual 2018 defense authorization bills, which authorize Pentagon funding for the next fiscal year.

The push to free up money for the Pentagon by closing excess military facilities is not new. Pentagon leaders and some lawmakers have been pushing for one since 2013, to no avail.

However, with the support of Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain (R-AZ) and House Armed Services Committee ranking member Adam Smith (D-WA), along with signs of support from the Trump administration, advocates are optimistic.

Indeed, a Trump Pentagon budget proposal submitted to Congress in May calls for a BRAC — but beginning in 2021, based on an estimate that the Defense Department would have 20 percent excess capacity and that it would save $2 billion per year by 2027.

A new round of BRAC next year still likely faces an uphill climb, particularly given the Trump administration’s focus on creating new jobs.

And lawmakers have been loath to support a new BRAC for the short-term impacts it could have on local economies and communities. They have also pointed out that they usually cost money upfront before savings begin.

But the experts, from nearly 30 different think tanks and organizations, argued it would not be shutting down military facilities altogether but just a “trim” to a “prudent level.”

“Some excess capacity is necessary to support changes in the size and location of forces over time, so the goal would be to trim —not eliminate — the amount of excess capacity to a more prudent level,” they wrote.

They cited a recent Pentagon study that said there would be 22 percent extra capacity as of 2019. The Army had the most excess capacity, at 33 percent, the Air Force had 32 percent, and the Navy and Marine Corps combined was seven percent.

The experts said those projections were not based on the expectations of a smaller force after cuts by the Obama administration but factored in President’s Trump’s plans to grow the military.

Even then, the Pentagon would still have “considerably more overhead than it needs well into the 2020s,” they said.

Closing excess military facilities would eventually save the Pentagon billions, they said.

“Today, the first four BRAC rounds together are producing annual recurring savings of around $7 billion,” they wrote.

They said the first BRAC in 1990 saved $72 million in the first year and then $1.5 per year by 1995. A second round in 1992 saved $548 million in its first year, then $3.4 billion annually by 1997. They said the third and fourth BRAC rounds in the late 1990s “followed a similar pattern.”

A fifth BRAC, in 2005 — which ended up being more costly than anticipated — is now saving nearly $5 billion a year, they said.

They also argued that communities with extra infrastructure were being affected by an overburdened defense budget anyway, requiring cuts to all installations, without regard to military value.

Tim Ford, CEO of the Association of Defense Communities, called it a “death-by-a thousand-cuts approach.”

“Downsizing is occurring, but in a piece meal manner,” he said in the letter.

The experts also argued that without a BRAC, communities could lose out the opportunities that would help them diversify away from “excessive reliance on the federal government.”

“Without BRAC, local communities’ ability to plan and adapt to these changes is less robust and offers fewer protections than under BRAC law,” they wrote.

They argued that evidence shows “that most communities recover, and some so quite rapidly,”

“The time to act is now,” they argued. “Congress should grant our military the authority to eliminate waste, and ensure that vital defense resources flow to where they are most needed.”

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