At last week’s hearing of the House Armed Services Committee with defense experts on where savings could be found in the defense budget, Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.), chairman of the committee’s readiness panel, focused on the witnesses’ support for a new round of base closures as one avenue for cutting costs.
At the outset of the hearing, Bensahel listed a new BRAC round as one of three priorities for reforming DOD spending.
“The Army and the Air Force have each estimated that they have around 20 percent excess capacity. It is unconscionable to require these services to continue spending money on facilities that they do not need while the budget caps require them to cut end strength, training, and readiness, which puts American troops at risk,” she said.
When it was Wittman’s turn to comment, he emphasized the permanence of a decision to shutter an installation.
“And we know in the United States, as it’s configured today, if you get rid of base structure you will never get it back in that configuration,” Wittman said. “And if you do need to regenerate that, it’ll be much, much more expensive, and it’ll be sometimes impossible to regenerate it because people don’t want those things in their backyard anymore once, once they disappear.”
He then asked how defense leaders can ensure they don’t regret a base closure decision because of future strategic needs and cited the example of closing an Air Force base that officials later find they need to host a new long-range strategic bomber.
“How do we save money in an effective way to meet today’s needs, but how do we make sure that we don’t rid ourselves of capacity that may be needed in the future?” Wittman asked.
Nora Bensahel, a distinguished scholar in residence in the School of International Service at American University, responded that the services take into account future needs when they make base closure recommendations.
“I would just say that I believe the chiefs of staffs of all of the services are well aware of that. They do think long-term. … When they make recommendations like that and estimates of that kind of capacity, they are not talking about what they need for today or even tomorrow; they are thinking much longer-term,” Bensahel said.
“If those are the conclusions that they have reached, that they … are asking Congress to close 20 percent of their capacity, that will already have figured into their calculations, particularly because they’re also, you know, involved — the secretary of the Air Force, the chief of staff of the Air Force are thinking about the long-range bomber, for example, when they make those decisions,” Bensahel added.
Jim Thomas, vice president and director of studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, told Wittman that it would be more difficult to reclaim one of DOD’s overseas bases than a domestic one.
“We certainly have to be concerned about regret factors for closing domestic bases, but I think that danger is greatly compounded when it comes to thinking about our overseas bases. And there I think the regret factors could be far greater,” Thomas said.
A webcast of the hearing is available on the committee website.