Bracing for BRAC

September 15, 2017

The Pentagon may finally get its wish for a new round of base closures. After requesting a new round of Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, for each of the last five years, it appears that support for the initiative is gaining.

The intent of BRAC is efficiently maximizing readiness; having the right people, supplies, and support programs in the right places.

The final decision on proceeding with a new round of BRAC will be made in conference committee during discussions on the National Defense Authorization bill. Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the top two lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee, filed a joint amendment to the annual defense authorization bill to authorize a new BRAC. In the House, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the number two member of the Armed Services Committee, spearheaded the initiative.

BRAC rounds often are justified by billions in annual savings from the defense budget. However, loss of military facilities can drastically change the economic dynamic of a region, occasionally for the worse.

Some lawmakers remain skeptical, citing the initial losses incurred from the last round of closures in 2005 before any savings could be claimed. This week, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) penned an op-ed in the Washington Times arguing that resources to conduct a new BRAC could be better spent on military readiness.

But with three of the top four members of the Armed Services Committees actively supporting a BRAC, it looks increasingly likely that the initiative could make it into the defense authorization bill's final language.

Though all states are subject to review, five states harbor over half of all active duty military personnel: California, Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. And just the rumors of another round of BRAC have several states scrambling to establish task forces to find ways to preserve their bases.

This time, there is a new cause for concern. Typically, BRAC commissions decide how best to go about closing bases and shifting resources. The McCain-Reed amendment gives the Government Accountability Office (GAO) responsibility for picking which bases will be targeted.

With recent reports suggesting over 20 percent excess capacity throughout current military infrastructure, GAO could be looking to make significant cuts. GAO is a numbers-based assessor, unlike commissions comprising individuals with knowledge of force-structure needs from past BRAC rounds.

Given an appropriate business case and the needs of servicemembers and their families are addressed, MOAA could support a BRAC. But it is imperative that GAO must look at this as more than just a numbers game.

“If a BRAC is approved, we will work with our members to ensure the cascading effects on our retirees and veterans and their families are being addressed,” says Col. Dan Merry, USAF (Ret), MOAA's vice president of Government Relations. “And we will have time to watch this develop, given the lengthy lead time and notification requirements.”