By Megan Scully, CQ Roll Call
The Pentagon’s effort to sell Congress on authorizing another base closure round received a noteworthy endorsement Friday from the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee.
Rep. Adam Smith of Washington says he understands lawmakers’ concerns about the risks of having bases in their districts shuttered, but he said he is a “strong supporter” of another round of base realignments and closures (BRAC).
“It needs to be done in order to get our force in the right structure and save money that needs to be saved,” Smith said.
It is “self-evident,” Smith added, that as defense funding declines and strategy changes after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Defense Department needs to adjust its infrastructure and save money by divesting itself of what it does not need.
During a hearing with Air Force leaders, Smith suggested that the Pentagon adjust its BRAC sales pitch to focus on the potential for savings over the life of the deficit reduction law (PL 112-25), which would help the Pentagon live within its budgetary caps.
Base closures require an upfront investment before savings begin, a fact that has fueled reluctant lawmakers’ arguments against authorizing another BRAC. Defense Department officials estimate that the base closure round they want to launch in 2015 will cost $2.4 billion over the next several years.
Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley said base closure costs vary, depending on the plan to shed excess infrastructure and realign forces. When asked whether the 2015 round could begin to save money before the budget caps expire, Donley said, “I don’t see why not.”
Congress has been unimpressed with the savings generated from the previous BRAC round in 2005, which focused more on realigning bases than shuttering major installations and thus has been slow to reap significant savings.
But that round, officials have asserted, is not the norm and would not serve as a guide for the requested 2015 round. Pentagon comptroller Robert F. Hale told House lawmakers on Thursday that previous BRAC rounds save the department a total of $12 billion annually.
“If we were carrying that overhead with us today, we would have enormous costs,” Donley said.