The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Base decision making should be independent


September 13, 2017

Bad Idea of the Week: Eliminating the presidentially appointed, nine-member Base Realignment and Closure Commission and relying instead on the Department of Defense and General Accounting Office to decide which U.S. military installations will be closed or shrunk.

It comes courtesy of Sens. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, party leads on the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, who are suggesting moving forward with a new BRAC but eliminating the BRAC commission.

While there’s no question the military has far more infrastructure than it needs, as well as firsthand knowledge of which infrastructure and missions are obsolete and which will take it into the next decades, simply turning defense lobbyists loose on the Pentagon is in no way preferable to allowing local communities to make their cases to an independent BRAC commission.

No community wants to lose or shrink a base, but those that have them want theirs to be vibrant, with an essential mission that helps drive the local economy as well as national security. That goes hand-in-hand with why we have BRAC in the first place: Politicians have always been staunch promoters and defenders of military installations in their districts, sometimes for decades after those facilities are no longer needed for national defense. As a result, the military winds up with more bases, and maintenance costs, than it needs.

Though the Pentagon has been calling for a new BRAC round for several years, pork-reliant Congress denied former President Barack Obama’s requests for closures and realignments four times.

Yet the Air Force says it has 25 percent more base infrastructure than it needs; the Army says it has 21 percent more base infrastructure than it needs — even if it added 25,000 troops; and the Center for Strategic and International Studies estimates the upkeep costs on excess properties cost the Pentagon $2 billion annually.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis says BRACs are the most significant and successful way of keeping the military lean and mean.

But the proposal by McCain and Reed to severely curtail public input by allowing a mere 60-day public comment period — which could amount to little more than emails that are never read — is seriously flawed.

Even Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, is skeptical of cutting out the BRAC commission — and he was in the camp that voted against initiating the base closure process four times.

He says “I’m not sure what problems are addressed by a new version of BRAC that involves more lobbying.”

Hard decisions need to be made, and bases need to be realigned and even closed. But history has shown that an independent commission and public meetings, where community members can make the best case for their military installations, make the BRAC process as open and fair a fight as possible.

— Albuquerque Journal


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