The Window for BRAC May Have Closed
Defense Communities 360
On Base November 3, 2017
The Pentagon may have missed its best opportunity to gain Congress’ approval for a new BRAC round after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis failed to fully support the proposal when it appeared the Senate would vote on language earlier this year authorizing a round of base closures in 2019, Cord Sterling, a staff member for the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Thursday at ADC’s Defense Policy Forum.
“This was the year for DOD to push it if they wanted it. Next year is an election year. Next year it becomes exponentially harder,” Sterling said. Sterling’s remarks came in response to a question from the moderator as to whether Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) planned to offer an amendment to next year’s defense authorization bill permitting the department to hold a BRAC round, as he did this year. Stronger engagement by Mattis on the issue could have made a difference, Sterling said.
The defense secretary’s willingness to wage a public battle for BRAC will play a major role in determining whether McCain goes forward next year with a similar amendment. “If we do it, it will have to be something that is strongly pushed and supported [by the Pentagon],” Sterling said. “This year, DOD wasn’t really there.”
Of course, getting a BRAC authorization through the House and Senate was never going to be easy, even if Mattis had advocated more vociferously for a new round. Sterling noted that members remained wary of DOD’s argument that one-fifth of its infrastructure is excess, even after the department recently updated its 2016 analysis using higher force structure levels.
“Members are growing increasing skeptical about the numbers,” he said. “If there is so much excess capacity, why are they building so much?”
DOD EAGER TO ADDRESS NEED FOR NEW BRAC ROUND, NIEMEYER SAYS: Acknowledging that the political calendar may not be ideal to attracting congressional support for BRAC next year, Lucian Niemeyer, assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations and environment, said the burden would be on DOD to convince Congress of the rationale for a new round of base closures. “It’s up to us to make the case,” Niemeyer told On Base following his remarks Thursday at the Defense Policy Forum.
Niemeyer, who took office two-and-a-half months ago, said he planned on pursuing a two-pronged strategy once the department releases its new national defense strategy. One argument would demonstrate the potential for DOD to save $2 billion annually following a BRAC round that eliminated a portion of its unneeded infrastructure. The other, perhaps more far-reaching argument, would focus on the opportunity presented by a BRAC round to better align its basing strategy with the Pentagon’s updated defense strategy. A new basing strategy could be expected to both enhance readiness and increase the lethality of the force, he said.