Military leaders have pleaded with Congress for years to allow the closure of tens of thousands of excess military bases around the world, a move that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says could save the services $2 billion annually.
But lawmakers had blocked shuttering any facilities under the Base Realignment and Closure program. On Monday, the Pentagon announced that it has given up on the effort for now and did not even mention the so-called BRAC program in its newly released 2019 budget request.
“We did not ask for that in this budget. We’ve asked for it a number of times in the past without much success,” said David Norquist, the Pentagon comptroller.
Instead, Norquist said the Pentagon will take another tack and focus its attention on other opportunities across the river on Capitol Hill.
“One is working with Congress to find common areas where we can make reforms and changes that don’t create the same types of obstacles,” he said.
The conservative Heritage Foundation think tank estimated last year that about 19 percent of more than 438,000 properties the military owns around the world could be ripe for consideration under a new BRAC round, which would be triggered by Congress and include a long review process overseen by a special panel.
“It is disappointing but not unexpected. It is very unlikely that Congress would vote or approve a new round of BRAC during an election year,” Frederico Bartels, a Heritage defense budget analyst, wrote in an email to the Washington Examiner.
Bartels said the military should come back next year with a new request for the closures with reforms that could bring lawmakers on board.
“BRAC has failed consistently in the past because both Congress and [the Department of Defense] have been unwilling to work together on necessary changes to the process,” he said.
The last BRAC round occurred in 2005 and took a decade to complete. It is estimated to have cost $24 billion and the Pentagon estimates it will save about $4 billion per year.
The Pentagon requested a new round of closures in its fiscal 2018 budget released last year, but House lawmakers, especially on the Armed Services Committee, have blocked any move in that direction.
They criticized the program for requiring too much upfront investment and taking too long to pay off with savings. The closures can also threaten House districts where communities depend on military bases for local jobs and other economic boosts.
Meanwhile, Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., the leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee, floated a streamlined BRAC process last summer, but it went nowhere.
The Pentagon did not rule out the possibility of requesting BRAC again in the future.
Norquist said the first-ever full financial audit of the military is underway and could provide the Pentagon better visibility on the facilities it owns and whether they are needed.
“There’s a view of being able to take advantage of the data coming out of that process to help us make better decision-making on real property,” he said.