Congress resists call for military base closures

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As Republicans roll out their budget outlines this week in the Congress, there continues to be strong bipartisan opposition to the idea of getting rid of excess military facilities, even as the Pentagon argues it would be an easy way to save $2 billion each year.

“We need a round of base closure and realignment in 2017,” said the Army’s Katherine Hammack in a recent Senate hearing.

“We must look for ways to divest excess bases,” added the Pentagon’s John Conger, as he laid out some stark numbers about excess military installations.

“The Army and the Air Force have done analyses indicating 18 percent and 30 percent excess capacity already,” Conger told Senators.

Navy officials say while they want to do a full review of their base structure, they believe cuts from earlier base closure rounds would mean little in the way of major changes for that service branch.

But it was obvious from recent hearings in both the House and Senate that most lawmakers still want no part of that possibility right now – worried that a base in their state or district might be shuttered, meaning lost jobs at home.

“We don’t have any kind of list in the hopper,” Conger told Senators who asked whether the Pentagon already had figured out what should go under a Base Realignment and Closure process, known as BRAC.

“This is an apolitical process,” Conger added.

That wasn’t swaying members on Capitol Hill.

“I come with a dislike for the BRAC process,” said Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD), who was Governor back in 2005 when the feds tried to close down Ellsworth Air Force Base.

“I continue to be opposed,” said Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) flatly.

But like fans of the Chicago Cubs, who hope each year for a World Series title, the Pentagon keeps coming back year after year to ask for the authority to consolidate its base structure.

“There is clearly enough excess to justify another BRAC round,” said Conger.

Some in the Congress say what might be needed is a change in how the process is characterized by the Pentagon.

“Let’s change the whole name of this to the Military Installations and Savings Commission,” said Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) at a recent House hearing, noting the acronym for miscellaneous.

“I don’t think that it’s fair to you or the taxpayers for us to sit here and continue to fund excess inventory capacity,” Fortenberry told military officials.

Would the Congress go for something like that? At this point it seems unlikely, as there is strong opposition in both parties to the idea of the first round of base closures since 2005.

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