Defense Secretary Jim Mattis formally began pushing Thursday for another round of politically toxic base closings.
In letters to the chairmen of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, Mattis said, “An additional Base Realignment and Closure round, in my view, remains a significant opportunity,” although Congress has rejected attempts to shutter bases for the past five years.
“We have studied shortcomings of previous rounds and are confident the savings generated by a new BRAC in 2021 would save $2 billion or more annually,” Mattis wrote in the letter.
Mattis’ letter is in line with Pentagon budget documents showing the military has about 20 percent more buildings, bases and infrastructure than it needs.
In principle, senators and representatives are generally in favor of trimming excess, but not if the excess is in their state or district.
Lawmakers opposed to shutting bases also consistently point to the last BRAC round in 2005, which cost more than projected to initiate. The House earlier this year rejected a proposal for another BRAC round, but House Democrats are seeking to revive it.
At a Heritage Foundation forum last month, Lucian Niemeyer, the Pentagon’s new installations chief, tried a different approach in arguing for another BRAC round.
He said a new round of base closures and troop realignments would give the Defense Department an opportunity to increase combat readiness by stationing forces closer to their optimal training facilities.
“The country should embrace a process that allows us to put our forces at locations that ultimately will provide the most benefit — the most effective force available at the most efficient cost,” said Niemeyer, the assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations and environment.
In a report to Congress accompanying Mattis’ letter, the Pentagon said, “DoD has not been authorized to undertake a BRAC analysis for over 14 years” — a reference to the analysis that preceded the last BRAC round in 2005.
“In those years, the Department has undergone considerable changes that have impacted the force structure, mission requirements and threats facing the United States,” the report said.
“Reality and common business sense dictate that infrastructure should be reconfigured to meet specific needs and changing threats,” the report said. “Congress should authorize the Department to undertake a BRAC 2021 round as it has requested.”