On Monday, a senior Pentagon official expressed frustration with the continual undermining by Congress of the Defense Department’s efficiency mandate, known as the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC).
Jamie Morin, director of the Pentagon’s Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation, estimates that closing and consolidating unnecessary military bases would net a 25 percent savings for some missions. Congress, however, refuses to agree to the proposal.
"It’s not a popular answer," said Morin, "but base realignment and closure is an important part of our efforts." Despite repeated calls from the Pentagon that BRAC would save the US $2 billion annually, the measures remain exceedingly unpopular on Capitol Hill. Over the past several years, Congress has blocked every request by the Pentagon to consolidate or eliminate a military base.
Lawmakers worry not about fiscal conservatism, when it comes to military-industrial complex expenditures, but rather the political consequences back home.
First, the defense industry is a potent enemy for any politician to cultivate. In 2015, the industry spent some $126 million on lobbying efforts, much of which targeted opposition to expanding military expense. Furthermore, the industry routinely spends in excess of $20 million on preferred congressional candidates, nationwide, per political cycle. A vote to downsize military bases often means easy money for any candidate opposing the reductions.
Second, military bases are often the primary economic driver in rural communities, employing many residents. These socioeconomic considerations make base closures not only unpopular among military-friendly politicians, but also on the main street of many congressional districts.
The economic concerns are well-founded, as Morin suggests that the majority of savings to be reaped by closures are in personnel rather than in property ownership and maintenance costs.
Notwithstanding the potential for economic upheaval, Pete Potochney, acting assistant secretary of defense for installations, argues that Congress needs follow BRAC. "We are in a budget dilemma," said Potochney, "we need BRAC so that we’re not wasting money and resources that could be spent on facilities that are needed and on readiness."
Although BRAC is a "difficult political topic," Morin says the Defense Department continues to advocate it to "drive more combat capability out of each taxpayer dollar."