February 10, 2017
Top military leaders painted a gloomy picture to lawmakers during an annual state-of-the-military briefing. Continued budget cuts and the looming specter of sequestration have led some of the services to support base closures as a way to save money.
Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Stephen Wilson told lawmakers, “In today's budget environment, it makes sense to invest wisely, so BRAC would help us make smart investments to prepare for the future.”
“We could take the money we're spending on the excess infrastructure and put that back into solving some of our fiscal problems,” said Wilson.
If President Donald Trump forges ahead with campaign promises to significantly increase defense and infrastructure spending while cutting taxes, “there's a strong argument that we're going to have significant deficit repercussions,” said the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Jack Reed (R.I.).
SASC Chair Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said last month members of Congress must talk about another round of base realignments and closures.
McCain's comments signal a departure from the status quo on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers have long memories about unforeseen challenges and the missed promises of financial wins; the last round of base closures in 2005 initially cost more than it saved.
But now, said Army Vice of Staff Gen. John Allyn, “We save year over year, annually, $1 billion from the BRAC that took place.”
If a BRAC were to be approved, which states are most likely to be affected? According to the Defense Manpower Data Center, half of all active duty personnel are concentrated at installations in five states: California, Virginia, Texas, North Carolina, and Georgia. But all installations would likely be reviewed during the initial phases of a BRAC.
McCain said the across-the-board defense spending cuts that went into effect in 2011 mean the next defense budget needs to be carefully scrutinized so programs aren't cut that shouldn't be.
The same should be applied to any future rounds of BRAC, McCain said. Speaking of the commission that recommended the round of closures in 2005, McCain said, “frankly … made some very bad decisions.”
Members of Congress need to take a more active role in decisions that have long-term national security consequences, he said.
“Like sequestration, it's kind of a cowardly act because it's an authentication that we can't make the tough decisions ourselves,” he said.
These discussions, and state-level efforts in response, will certainly get the attention of MOAA members nationwide.
“We are paying close attention to discussions of a BRAC,” said Col. Dan Merry, USAF (Ret), MOAA's vice president of Government Relations. “If one is approved, we will work with our chapters and councils in the affected states to ensure the cascading effects on our retirees, families, and veterans are being addressed. And we will have time to watch this develop, given the lengthy lead time and notification requirements.”
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