Closing Major Bases outside of BRAC Unlikely, Panetta Says
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last week said major installations should be closed only through the BRAC process, a statement that should ease communities’ concerns about the department’s intentions to shutter bases if Congress does not authorize new base closure rounds.
“There is some de minimis closures that we have the right to do under the law, but my view is that for the kind of major installation, that ought to be done through the BRAC process,” Panetta said Friday during an informal press event aboard the USS Peleliu, off the coast of Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Panetta’s comments should serve to clarify earlier remarks made by Dorothy Robyn, deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment, at several Capitol Hill hearings over recent weeks. Robyn had told lawmakers that in the absence of obtaining congressional authorization to use BRAC, DOD “will be forced to use its existing authorities” to close or realign bases. She most likely was referring to 10 U.S.C. Sec. 2687, a statute allowing base closures and realignments to be carried out when a BRAC round is not in effect.
Section 2687 requires the defense secretary to give Congress 60 days to review proposed actions meeting certain thresholds:
- closure of an installation at which at least 300 civilian personnel are authorized; or
- a realignment involving a reduction by more than 1,000 — or by more than 50 percent — in the number of civilians authorized at the installation.
The statute requires the secretary to include an assessment of the likely impacts of proposed closures when it submits its annual budget request to Congress. Unlike BRAC, however, proposed closures need to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, which can slow the process significantly. It is not clear if the department has ever closed or realigned a facility under section 2687.
Panetta’s comments likely indicate the Pentagon will not propose closing or realigning any facilities that would trigger the requirements of the statute.
The secretary also noted that bases in Southern California generally would not be vulnerable in the event of a new BRAC. “I think generally the bases here are pretty important to the strategy that we put in place in terms of our defense. And I think most of those will largely be maintained,” Panetta said in response to a reporter’s question. He visited the Tarawa-class amphibious assault ship to thank the crew for its service, particularly supporting critical activities in Afghanistan.