Arlington, Va. — Citing unanswered questions about the level of surplus DOD infrastructure and the extent to which the military’s force structure will come down, if at all, a staff member for the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) expressed doubt Friday that Congress would approve a new round of base closures in the near term.
The Pentagon has requested permission each of the past three years to conduct a BRAC round so it can shed some of its estimated 24 percent excess capacity. But Dave Sienicki, a professional staff member on the majority side of HASC, told the audience at the Defense Communities National Summit that he was skeptical of that figure because the department hasn’t assessed its excess capacity since 1999.
“[That figure] doesn’t make sense to me,” Sienicki said.
To address that concern, as well as DOD’s failure to provide HASC a 20-year force structure plan, the fiscal 2015 defense authorization bill passed last month by the House directs the department to assess the need for additional base closures and realignments by comparing its long-term force structure plan with an inventory of its installations.
The legislation also would require DOD to certify that each BRAC recommendation in a new round would have a payback period of six years or less. That provision is intended to avoid a repeat of the 2005 round, Sienicki said.
“I don’t think Congress is willing to give DOD the same latitude as [in the last round],” he said.
Brian Garrett, a professional staff member on the minority side of the committee, acknowledged that the department’s estimate of excess capacity relies on an old analysis, but said his boss, ranking member Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), believes the military has surplus infrastructure. “It’s just a matter of what percentage,” he said.
And while Garrett described the language calling for an assessment of the need for additional base closures “a great first step” toward a new BRAC round, Sienicki said, “That may be a leap too far.”
Sienicki made clear that resistance to BRAC within the committee stems from a more fundamental disagreement over the direction the military’s force structure is headed. There’s a broad discussion on Capitol Hill over whether to lock in the reductions proposed in the Pentagon’s five-year budget or “to live in a brighter future … with a more robust defense.”
That discussion needs to be broached before Congress tackles the question of whether defense infrastructure needs to be cut back, he said.
Sienicki didn’t want to speculate as to when lawmakers would authorize a new round, but said it would come down to what DOD’s goals are for a future BRAC and whether Congress buys into that vision.
He was very skeptical when asked about the potential for language authorizing a new BRAC to be “air dropped” into the final version of the defense authorization bill agreed to in House-Senate conference later this year.
“I just don’t see it,” Sienicki said. There’s an extraordinarily high bar for conferees to adopt language that wasn’t passed in either chamber’s version of the legislation.
The House position is to categorically reject any BRAC round, he added.