BRAC off the Table, Ayotte Declares

At the outset of her panel’s budget hearing Tuesday, Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), chair of the Senate Armed Services’ Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee, removed all doubt as to where she stands on the Obama administration’s request to hold a new BRAC round in 2019.

“I continue to oppose another BRAC round for many reasons,” said Ayotte before she reiterated many of arguments she has cited in the past, including the higher-than-promised implementation cost of the last round.

“I do not want to give the department the open-ended authority to pursue another BRAC round that will potentially incur significant upfront costs when we do not have the room in our budget in the next few years to afford many fundamental readiness investments that are right before us,” she said.

Ayotte also focused on the impact of the Budget Control Act, which has forced the military to shed some of its force structure over the past several years to meet strict spending caps.

“In short, there is a significant and dangerous gap between the military we have and the military we need. Therefore I don’t believe at this point it makes sense to authorize a round of base closures when many of us are hopeful that regardless of the outcome of this coming election, that the next administration will align its proposed defense budget and the size of our military to the growing threats we face and will need many of the bases that DOD may currently want to close,” she said.

And if it wasn’t already clear, Ayotte stated she would not be including the authority to conduct a BRAC round in her subcommittee’s mark of the fiscal 2017 defense authorization bill.

Tim Kaine (D-Va.), the panel’s ranking member, similarly said he opposed approving a new round of base closures, but acknowledged the need for a mechanism to allow DOD to right-size its infrastructure in light of estimates that its excess capacity stands at about 20 percent. Kaine’s opposition was based on the BRAC process, however, which forces every defense community to invest resources in protecting its bases even if they aren’t in any real jeopardy.

“So what BRAC becomes is just this massive lobbyist and lawyer effort that is largely unnecessary,” he said.

Kaine described an approach, as he has in the past, which bypasses a BRAC commission and simply allows Congress to evaluate the department’s recommendations for closure and realignment.

“I’d love to move to a situation where we rationalize our infrastructure investments, even including closures, with the basic recommendations that are based on the expertise within DOD and then allowing Congress to do what we do,” he said. “I think that would be a much better way to look at the rationalization of infrastructure.”

Beyond the opening statements of Ayotte and Kaine, the administration’s BRAC request hardly came up during the sparsely attended hearing — other than during the opening statements of the top installation officials for DOD and the services. Three of the four witnesses made a strong case for lawmakers to approve the Pentagon’s request to conduct a BRAC round.

The witnesses’ written testimony and a webcast of the hearing are available on the committee website.

Dan Cohen
Dan Cohen
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