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Springer Journal: Base Realignment and Closure

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PINEHURST, N.C. — Earlier this month the Department of Defense (DOD) released its recommendations for base closures and realignments. The list was far greater in breadth and depth than the prior five BRAC recommendations of the late 1980's and early to mid-1990's. The ink on this BRAC release was hardly dry before the politicians and local and state "save our base" committees were denouncing the recommendations.

Of course, there were also those who were touting their political success in "saving our base(s)" in several states and locales. We need look no further than right here in North Carolina for evidence. Several of our senior elected officials, of both major political parties, were claiming credit for protecting bases and jobs in North Carolina.

Interestingly, this past weekend was set aside as Armed Forces Day across the nation. Regrettably, I did not see any media reports of our political leaders out and about heralding our troops in "America's Most Friendly Military State."

Politics aside, the most relevant factor influencing the BRAC decisions was the military value of the installation. Military value took precedence over political concern, economic impact on the local communities, etc. There was also a major emphasis on having the military services work more jointly, and a much greater recognition of the importance of our National Guard and reserve forces.

The Cold War is over. Today's military forces face a different threat. The military forces must be restructured to face the emerging and ever growing threat of international terrorism. The BRAC recommendations are intended to move that restructuring forward and save billions of dollars along the way.

The Department of Defense and the military services have spent about two years analyzing the force structure needed for the next twenty years. Earlier this month I spent a full day in Washington, D.C. and received a BRAC briefing (among several other topics) on the Air Force involvement in the process. We were briefed on the process and on the criteria that the BRAC legislation required. We did NOT get specifics on base closures and realignments. As a consequence I was as surprised as others when the list was finally released on May 13th.

What happens to the BRAC recommendations now? A commission of nine members appointed by the president will review in great detail each of the BRAC recommendations. They may add to, delete from or alter the DOD list. There will be regional hearings in major metropolitan areas around the country over the next several weeks to obtain public input to the process. One or more commission members will visit the installations on DOD's recommended list.

The nine member commission will present its recommendations to President Bush by September 8, 2005. The president will have 15 days to either accept or reject the commission list in its entirety. The president cannot make changes. He gets an up or down vote only. If he concurs with the commission report he forwards it to the Congress which then has really three options.

By law, the Congress has a 45 day window to act. Here too, it is an either /or issue. They either accept the report in its entirety or they reject it in its entirety. They can vote to accept the commission and president's report and the actions become law. Congress could also vote to reject the report and as such it is essentially a dead issue.

There is a third alternative. Congress can do nothing. If after the 45 day window Congress has not acted on the report, the commission's report becomes law and the wheels for closure and realignment start turning. This alternative would permit elected officials to return home without having "voted" to close or realign bases in their state or district. With nearly 800 installations on the list ... many of which are National Guard armories and Reserve Training Centers ... there are few congressional districts without some BRAC concerns.

In the past about 85 percent of the DOD recommendations were approved by the appointed commissions. I am not certain that high a percentage will hold up this time around. The size and scope of the BRAC list is greater than ever before. There is a more far reaching political impact. Further, because we are at war, politicians have an easier sell as to why cutting back on bases and force structure should be deferred for a few years. Also the DOD's intentions to bring back some 70,000 military men and women from Europe and Asia must be factored in to the equation by the commission.

Already there are bills circulating in Congress to delay any BRAC activities into the future. Some senators, for example, are concerned that the BRAC recommendations have not properly considered the Homeland Security concerns which we face here at home post 9-11-2001. For example, both Massachusetts and Missouri have denounced the intent to move their Air National Guard fighter forces away from major metropolitan areas.

Congress will be on recess over Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day. They will hear a lot from local committees dedicated to base and job preservation in their districts and states. They will also get a lot of input in their town hall meetings. All of this will occur before they get the president's report on September 23rd. There will be great political pressure for Congress to reject the report and maintain the status quo.

Obviously, I cannot predict the outcome. With history as my guide, I can safely say there will be changes to the BRAC list that is now on the streets and being considered by the nine member commission. I also know from the historical perspective that, if the list is approved as is or if it is modified and approved, it will be several years before all of the intended actions fall into place. I would not be making any major financial decisions, like buying or selling a home, until the final outcome of the BRAC recommendations are much clearer than they are today.

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