By Tila Neguse and Jim Cason
We were glad to hear Secretary of Defense Hagel recognize this week that with the war in Afghanistan winding down, the US needs to cut back the size of our military to 440,000-450,000 — more or less the same U.S. troop size before WWII. We can and must support those individuals who have served our country in the past, but the administration and Congress can do a great deal to keep from putting more of our young people in harm’s way.
Congress and the administration have more work to do in the coming months and years to bring down Pentagon spending and redirect funds toward other priorities of our nation. For starters, members of Congress should declare immediately that they will not accept the proposals from Secretary Hagel for new increases in Pentagon spending over the next five years.
Secretary Hagel’s 5-year plan refuses to accept the reality of sequestration and proposes $115 billion in spending over the caps. We are no longer a nation at war and have yet to realize the savings that reflect such. Even if the entirety of sequestration had been left in place, by 2021, the Pentagon would still be spending about as much as it did during the height of the Cold War.
Congress also has a tough job ahead, as Secretary Hagel noted when he pleaded with lawmakers to accept a future round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) in 2017. Congress has blocked every Pentagon effort to eliminate excess base capacity through a BRAC commission for many years. The most recent 2005 BRAC round had high up-front costs that did not match the savings.
The good news is that there are federal funds available to help communities impacted by BRAC. The DoD’s own Office of Economic Adjustment provides financial and technical assistance to communities to aid in the transition. A BRAC in 2017, if modeled off pre-2005 BRACs, could close unused and unnecessary infrastructure and yield long-term savings in the future.
After over a decade of costly wars, the nation needs major reductions in Pentagon spending not new increases. Yesterday, Secretary Hagel began to address some of the difficult fiscal issues facing the Pentagon. As he put it, implementing some of these reforms “will require Congress to partner with the Department of Defense in making politically difficult choices.” That’s just it. Congress and the Pentagon have choices and both should exercise their options by reviewing the Pentagon’s spending practices and determining whether those practices serve the nation’s actual needs.