With new round of base closures, U.S. could save $2 billion a year on defense | Commentary
Secretary Mattis noted that a new round of BRAC would help the department improve its readiness and lethality by better locating our forces and right-sizing the infrastructure and its associated costs.
If you could remove 50 channels you never watch from your cable subscription and save $10 a month, you would do it, right?
You have no use for those extra channels, and they probably represent a time drain as you surf through the clutter to find Food Network.
The Pentagon has a similar problem.
According to a Defense Department study released last month, it now has 19 percent more infrastructure than it needs. Roughly one in every five installations the Pentagon owns is idle, yet we — the nation's taxpayers — still pay to secure and maintain those facilities.
This excess capacity will not be filled in the future — not even under plans being considered to rebuild our shrunken military. It's time to cut it loose.
Experience proves that the best way to shed excess military infrastructure is through a process called Base Realignment and Closures, more commonly known by its acronym, BRAC. Congress can authorize the process to begin at any time. But for the last seven years, it has denied the Pentagon's pleas to start a new round.
When Defense Secretary James Mattis testified in Congress on the department's budget request, he told lawmakers a new round of BRAC likely would save $2 billion each year in maintenance costs. Previous rounds of BRAC already are producing more than $12 billion of savings every year.
Additionally, Mattis noted, a new round of BRAC would help the department improve its readiness and lethality by better locating our forces and right-sizing the infrastructure and its associated costs.
So, why won't Congress act?
Excuses range from the pure parochial desire to protect bases in individual members' districts, to claims that the Pentagon has provided insufficient data documenting the magnitude and costs of the excess. Moreover, a lot of members still have not gotten over some bad experiences with the last BRAC round in 2005.
The 2005 round focused heavily on establishing joint bases — facilities that host units from two or more of the service branches. The goal of joint basing is to foster integration and interoperability among the branches, however, it led to much higher implementation costs than expected.
But joint basing has been absent from all Pentagon proposals for a new round of BRAC and from all the congressional proposals since 2010.
Congress has all the power in this discussion. It can further reduce the likelihood of cost overruns by limiting actions to those that save money in five years, or by establishing specific goals — e.g., that the department needs to reduce 5 percent of its infrastructure.
Unfortunately, lawmakers did none of that in the 2018 defense authorization bill. Instead, they once again denied the Pentagon the authority to reduce idle infrastructure. It's a decision that forces the department and the American taxpayer to continue to dig deep into their pockets to pay for its upkeep.
Congress can — and should — resolve all its reservations about BRAC in the next defense authorization bill. All it will take is a willingness among both lawmakers and Pentagon brass to work together. The leaders of the armed services committees understand the need for a new round of BRAC. All of them, both Democrats and Republicans, are committed to improving how the Pentagon runs.
No one looks forward to calling the cable company. You know they are going to try to talk you out of changes. But if you knew that call would save you a lot of money and trouble every month, you'd make it.
It is time for Congress and the Pentagon to pick up the phone and make that call. They are expected to be good stewards of tax dollars, and BRAC is a step in that direction.
Delaying it will just represent another missed opportunity to save and grow stronger.
Frederico Bartels is a policy analyst specializing in defense budgeting at the Heritage Foundation's Center for National Defense.