• Officials weighing whether to do away with commission
  • Neither House nor Senate defense bills allow shuttering bases

By Roxana Tiron | October 30, 2017 1:22PM ET

The Defense Department is gearing up to renew its push for Congress to authorize a new round of base closures as a way to free up money to update the military.

“We will keep asking” for a new round of base realignment and closures, or BRAC, Lucian Niemeyer, assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations, and environment, told reporters at the Pentagon. It’s

Defense officials are working on a legislative proposal for the fiscal 2019 budget, Niemeyer said. They’re weighing whether to request an independent commission to review base closures and realignments — as has been the case in previous rounds — or change the oversight to the Government Accountability Office, Niemeyer said Oct. 27.

The Defense Department is “not quite there yet,” Niemeyer said when asked whether the agency would back doing away with the commission. “We are still working internally to determine” what Defense Secretary Jim Mattis would want to request for fiscal 2019.

Mattis made the case for a new round earlier this month.

“Every unnecessary facility we maintain requires us to cut capabilities elsewhere,” Mattis said in a letter to the congressional defense committees released Oct. 17. “I must be able to eliminate excess infrastructure in order to shift resources to readiness and modernization.”

The Defense Department has 19 percent more military base capacity than it needs, including a 29 percent redundancy for the Army and 28 percent for the Air Force, according to a Pentagon infrastructure report.

The idea to do away with a congressionally mandated commission originated with the leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.). McCain and Reed had prepared the proposal as an amendment to the 2018 defense authorization bill (H.R. 2810), but it didn’t come to a vote.

Under their their proposal, the Defense Department would list bases to be closed by the fall of 2019. That list would go to the Government Accountability Office for review, followed by 60-day public comment period and an up-or-down vote by Congress.

The Defense Department, while basing its own proposal on a commission, supported the amendment because it would have given the negotiators of the final defense bill the opportunity to discuss it further, Niemeyer said. That was considered “huge forward progress,” he said.

The Pentagon’s infrastructure report drew its estimates from 2012 troop levels, compared with projections for fiscal 2019. It also forecast the Pentagon could save about $2 billion a year from a new round of closures that would be dictated by national security strategy due out over the next few months.

The Defense Department is “pretty comfortable,” with the $2 billion figure, according to Niemeyer. “We felt that $2 billion was a pretty conservative number at least as an initial shot,” Niemeyer said. He called it a preliminary estimate and said the Pentagon would have a more accurate number once basing is reflected in the new national security strategy.