McKeon @ Heritage IMG_6924
HERITAGE FOUNDATION, DC: Hours after the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee put out legislative language to permit a Base Reduction and Closure round, the top Republican shot him down.

Rep. Adam Smith has warned his colleagues repeatedly that Congress must make “unimaginable” choices to cope with the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration. In particular, Smith says they must consider closing military bases using a new round of base closures (BRAC), a process that’s always politically painful and which many in Congress argue was discredited by the 2005 round, which they say cost more money than it saved. The administration asked for another BRAC in its 2015 budget submission, but Rep. Buck McKeon left it out of his version of the National Defense Authorization Act. Smith had filled his put-BRAC-back amendment with all sorts of caveats and restrictions, apparently hoping against hope to assuage his colleagues’ concerns, but McKeon isn’t having any of it.

“I understand Mr. Smith’s concern, and I applaud him for his courage but it’s not going to be in the defense bill this year for sure,” said House Armed Services chairman Buck McKeon when I raised the question at the Heritage Foundation today.

Rep Adam Smith HASC NDAA2014 amendment on BRAC

McKeon has pointed out all the “painful” choices he did make in his NDAA mark, especially retiring the vaunted A-10 “Warthog” ground attack aircraft — although his proposed legislation offers a compromise. It would require keeping the A-10s in “special storage,” ready to be quickly restored to fighting condition in case of a major crisis, which McKeon argues “could happen easily at a moment’s notice” given increasingly aggressive actions by Russia and China of late. “I want to make sure we can hold onto as many things as we can,” McKeon told me — and “things” includes bases.

In any case, McKeon said, the actual cost savings from a BRAC round are hard to count up and not to be counted on. “We always ask the DoD to give us information on savings from previous BRACs. The [only] information we’ve ever received is sketchy at best,” McKeon said. Closing bases always costs money up front, with the savings materializing years later: “It ends up costing money before your each any potential saving.”

Every accounting I’ve seen argues that the BRACs before the ill-fated 2005 round did save money over time — but the irony of the current budget crunch is we may not be able to afford the up-front investment to get long-term savings. And Congress is even more unlikely in an election year to do something that would cause pain up front.


  • Don Bacon

    The “up-front investment” includes binge spending by congress-critters to make their district bases “BRAC-proof.”

    BRAC-Proof: “. ..a sustained effort to promote military mission retention and expansion and increased defense contracting in the municipality, state or region you are being paid to protect.. .”

  • Gary Church

    I lived in Alameda for many years and moved there a few years after the Naval Air Station closed. The locals thought they were going to move in and develop it into a gold mine but instead it turned into a superfund toxic waste site:( There are a few businesses there but it is basically a ghost town. And then there is that P-3 base on Adak. They talked about making it into a prison but nothing came of it. There is a small group of caretakers and hundreds of empty buildings and hangars. Strange place.
    I am not a big fan of base closings. Just leaving is a huge waste and it would be better to slowly convert the bases into something else because just leaving is pretty ugly from what I have seen. So though I am a leftie I have to side with the republican guy on this one.

  • Chernenko

    BRAC is a threat to national security. Your bottlenecking your combat power, in a handful of locations. Like the distinguished gentleman from Virginia, doing everything he can to keep all the east coast carriers at one location, rather than being dispersed the way it was done in the past. Like Gary said, empty bases create a vacuum. After the NTC closed in Orlando, it remain to this day underdeveloped. I think four years ago they got around to knocking the base housing down.Like Don said about stacking the bases, Macdill is loaded with top heavy command. Centcom, Socom, NOAA, 6th Air refueling wing they might as well move Southern Command there.

  • Don Bacon

    I don’t believe that either McKeon nor Smith have any bases in their districts but there are plenty of reps who do. They are always trying to expand those bases and closing them is not an option.

    A lot of bases have been closed in the past, like after WWII, but that was in a time of US economic expansion, before jobs were shipped overseas to fatten corporate profits. Now government employment is a bigger slice of a diminishing pie.

    • bamastu

      McKeon has parts of Edwards Air Force Base (Air Force Test Center) and Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale. Edwards is also part of the continuous military controlled airspace that runs from Edwards to NAS China Lake to the Army’s National Training Center at Fort Irwin, and extends all the way to Nellis AFB (Las Vegas) and the Nevada Test and Training Range.

  • MandyREverson

    am not a big fan of base closings. Just leaving is a huge waste and it would be better to slowly convert the bases into something else because just leaving is pretty ugly from what I have seen.

  • Derek Sage

    Another BRAC is long overdue, given that many bases are underutilized and full of GS workers with little work to do (essentially a Congressional jobs/entitlement program). Of course the Repubs in Congress will continue to moan about the deficit while doing all they can to run it up some more.