I’ll be BRAC’d for Christmas? That may be the song the Department of Defense is singing, but Congress isn’t quite in love with the tune.
Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics is the latest in a string of defense leaders calling on Congress to renew the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process.
In an era of sequestration and dwindling defense dollars, Kendall argues that the department simply can’t afford to keep its current infrastructure.
“For example, the Army has announced plans to reduce its force from 562,000 to 490,000 soldiers and more reductions could be forced by looming budget cuts, but without BRAC the Army will not be allowed to close any bases to reduce overhead,” Kendall wrote in an op-ed featured in Roll Call. “This ‘empty space’ tax on our warfighters will simply result in cuts to capabilities elsewhere in the budget.”
Despite the push for BRAC, it’s a historically unpopular move and one that offers mixed results. The last round of BRAC, in 2005, costs were 67 percent larger than anticipated, largely due to additional construction, according to a 2012 U.S. Government Accountability Office report. BRAC also has a devastating impact on local economies where military facilities are closed, making it an unpopular move for congressmen who are already struggling to keep constituents happy. And while the overall goal is reduce cost and infrastructure, the same GAO report noted that the 20-year net savings from the 2005 BRAC wasn’t going to be a savings at all – BRAC wold end up costing more than it saved, over the course of the following 20 years.
Despite the dubious savings, defense leaders have long supported a new round of BRAC. Donald Rumsfeld, Robert Gates, Leon Panetta and current Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel have all spoken out in favor of BRAC. Why? Because, in the short-term (and extreme long-term), BRAC does offer budget benefits. The 2005 BRAC resulted in just over $3 billion in annual savings as a result of reduced infrastructure costs. DoD leaders would rather take their chances with BRAC in order to earn additional budget flexibility as they look to cut almost $500 billion from the budget thanks to sequestration.
But given the reality that Congress can’t even agree on a defense budget, BRAC is unlikely to get on the agenda any time soon.