For the past several years, the Department of Defense has requested that Congress allow it to close unnecessary military bases. In its first defense budget request, the Trump administration, like its predecessor, asked that Congress approve a new Base Realignment and Closure—or BRAC—round. The military has repeatedly cited the more than twenty percent of excess infrastructure it will be maintaining in coming years, and the other priorities that will be deprived of funds as a result. Congress has remained intransigent on the subject.
Today, the defense and foreign policy studies department at the Cato Institute released an open letter calling for Congress to approve a new BRAC round. I am happy to join some of the country’s leading experts on defense policy as one of the signatories.
From the letter:
BRAC has proven to be a fair and efficient process for making the difficult but necessary decisions related to the configuration of our military’s infrastructure. In the absence of a BRAC, defense communities are hurting. Although members of Congress have blocked base closures with the intent of helping these communities, they are actually making the problem worse. The time to act is now. Congress should grant our military the authority to eliminate waste, and ensure that vital defense resources flow to where they are needed most.
Much of the letter’s focus is on defense communities because, while members of Congress sometimes cite strategic concerns when rejecting BRAC, in reality—and somewhat understandably—they worry about the negative economic base closures will have in the districts and states. As the letter explains though, these concerns are misplaced for two reasons. First, communities that previously hosted military facilities tend to recover quickly after the facility closes and often flourish. Second, as the head of the Association of Defense Communities has noted, smaller scale cuts are already occurring in ways that hurt these communities more over the long term—making BRAC their preferred option.
In addition to strategic concerns, members of Congress cite the upfront costs of base closures and the supposed costs of the 2005 BRAC round. However, the costs to implement are outweighed by the savings achieved. As the letter notes, the first four BRAC rounds have produced annual recurring savings of approximately $7 billion. The fifth round has led to $5 billion in annual savings despite being focused on the realignment of functions, while closing a smaller number of bases.
Members of Congress consistently argue that the United States needs a strong defense and to be fiscally responsible in pursuing it. BRAC emerged from similar concerns in the 1980s. It has successfully achieved savings for American taxpayers while improving national defense. It is time for Congress to bring it back.