WASHINGTON – The U.S. Defense Department estimated in a report released to Congress this month that the military holds 19 percent excess infrastructure for the missions it faces, potentially disrupting the most effective force structure and limiting the most effective use of federal resources.
The report was mandated by the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the annual defense policy bill. Lawmakers had requested the Defense Department conduct the review consistent with 2012 troop levels when the armed forces had about 100,000 more active-duty troops than are serving today.
In an Oct. 6 letter to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) accompanying the report, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis asked that Congress authorize another base realignment and closure (BRAC) process for 2021. Mattis said only through the BRAC process can the Defense Department best integrate an infrastructure capacity analysis with the national defense strategy.
He said the Defense Department would only proceed with a BRAC process in 2021 if he believes it would incur savings for each service branch. Mattis reportedly told lawmakers that the expected savings would come to $2 billion or more annually.
The last BRAC happened in 2005, and the Defense Department expects to see savings beginning next year. That round of closures prompted weariness among Democrats and Republicans alike, as lawmakers questioned the savings and said closures hurt communities and businesses surrounding military installations.
“An updated defense strategy must be supported by an updated basing strategy,” Mattis said. “Since the last BRAC round we have developed new methods of warfare, new technologies, and expanded needs for Warfighter training that requires us to assess the military value and effectiveness of our domestic military infrastructure. In addition, every unnecessary facility we maintain requires us to cut capabilities elsewhere. I must be able to eliminate excess infrastructure in order to shift resources to readiness and modernization.”
The lead Democrat and Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee have expressed support for authorizing the 2021 BRAC, as has the Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), who released the Defense Department report and letter from Mattis to the public.
Thornberry has long opposed the BRAC, saying that the upfront costs would take needed funds from the budget and that the savings might not be realized for years, if ever.
The Defense Department estimated that the Army has a 29 percent excess, the Navy is at 6 percent, the Air Force is at 28 percent and the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) is at 13 percent excess. The report provides an indicator of the categories of excess but does not give the detail necessary to identify specific infrastructure for elimination.
“Specifying excess at a particular installation could cause unnecessary and premature concern by the affected community,” the report states.