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BRAC Counter-Attack

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Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testified before the House Armed Services on Wednesday, and it’s funny to see how many times lawmakers questioned him on the Pentagon’s proposal to shutter military bases. Panetta has been there. He watched Ford Ord  — “which represented 25% of my local economy” — shut down in his own California district when he served in the House (although the creation of the Panetta Institute for Public Policy on what had been Fort Ord probably eased some of the sting).

But because of the budget vise tightening on the Pentagon, Panetta is proposing two more Base Realignment and Closure – BRAC – rounds. A day earlier, senators didn’t ask about it all that much. All politics, as Tip O’Neill once said, is local…and for many HASC members, there is no more pressing local issue than keeping their hometown base open. As Warner Wolf kinda, used to say: let’s go to the transcript:

Profiles in Discourage:

There is obviously no wild enthusiasm in the Congress for additional BRAC rounds for two reasons: Every one of those facilities is in somebody’s district, and it might be yours that gets gored; and secondly, we really don’t save any money in the short term because of the cleanup. You know, we’ve been on some of these bases for a hundred years. Our families have lived there. Our kids have played there. And we’re making the statement that these are second-class citizens because they can live and play in a place that really isn’t even good enough to give away. I know the law may require us to do this environmental cleanup, but I think we make the laws here in the Congress, and we could change that law. If the local community doesn’t want the facility, we’ll plant some trees and lock the gate and come back in a hundred years and cut the trees, and by that time whatever the environmental problem was, it’ll undoubtedly be much less.

– Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Fort Detrick, Maryland

The 2005 round of BRAC will not even break even until 2018, according to GAO. That means for 13 years it’s going to cost more money to have more BRAC than it would if you didn’t have BRAC. And so having the Pentagon suggest two more rounds when it will aggravate the budget situation for 13 years, or at least a decade, leaves me scratching my head a little bit.

– Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Pantex, Texas

We’ve been following the 2005 BRAC like a box score in terms of its results. It cost about twice as much as was predicted and, as Mr. Thornberry said, the net savings is still years away. And, you know, obviously, we all get sort of pinned as being — sort of looking at our own back yard when this issue gets discussed. But I think there is a legitimate question here, particularly with the fact that we’ve got to deal with the Budget Control Act caps. You know, how do you do this in terms of not costing money in the short term? The answers we’ve gotten so far from [Deputy Defense Secretary] Dr. [Ash] Carter and yourself is that it’s zero, in terms of projected savings, for the plan that was submitted there. So, you know, zero minus zero equals zero.

– Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Electric Boat, Connecticut

Profile in Courage:

I wanted to just get more comments from you about BRAC, because you have seen, since that discussion started, it has not been greeted warmly on the Hill, to put it mildly, except by me. I think I’m like the only one I can think of who had a single positive thing to say about it. And I just sort of looked at it logically and said, you know, if we’re shrinking the force by the size that we are, in reaction to the fact that Iraq is done, Afghanistan is winding down, I mean, we’re moving two brigades out of Europe — we’re making substantial changes within the strategy. I mean, regardless of the debate about the budget, we’re going to be moving things around. I mean, logically, there’s no way we can do that without doing some closures and realignments. I mean, I just don’t see where it’s possible. I, you know, certainly have a large number of bases in my state, and various degrees of vulnerability, and I understand that. But it has to be done, as far as I can see.

– Rep. Adam Smith, D-Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington

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