Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Thursday that another round of base closures was inevitable despite the repeated rejections by Congress.
"It must be done," Carter said of the Base Re-Alignment and Closure (BRAC) process. "It's unpopular, I get it," but "we can't let tail and not tooth eat our budget," Carter said in response to questions at a town hall meeting in Stuttgart, Germany, with troops from Africa Command.
"I'm in an ongoing argument, essentially, with Congress" over the need for another BRAC round, Carter said. "We're going to keep trying. I think at some point we'll get there" and have authorization to shut down bases.
Carter was in Europe toward the end of a 10-day trip following stops in Singapore, Vietnam and India. On Friday, he was to meet with NATO counterparts and Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, the NATO commander and head of European Command, on strengthening the alliance against Russian aggression in Ukraine.
Another BRAC round thus far has been blocked in the versions of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2016 now working their way through Congress.
Last month, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) warned that the administration would look for other ways to close bases if Congress continued to block a BRAC round.
"In the absence of authorization of a new round of BRAC, the administration will pursue alternative options to reduce this wasteful spending and ensure that DoD's limited resources are available for the highest priorities of the warfighter and national security," OMB said in a statement.
The Defense Department has already had five previous BRAC rounds -- in 1988, 1991, 1993, 1995 and most recently in 2005 for an estimated total savings of about $8 billion.
Congressional critics have charged that the latest BRAC round in 2005 has yet to produce any savings despite closing 24 bases, re-aligning 24 others and cutting about 12,000 civilian jobs.
The Pentagon initially had projected that the 2005 BRAC round would save about $3.9 billion annually, but a Government Accountability Office report in 2009 said the savings would not begin to materialize until 2018.
Lawmakers consistently use this as their defense for not allowing the Defense Department to pursue another BRAC.
The GAO report said that the Defense Department miscalculated the costs of re-aligning some bases. For example, the move of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center from Washington, D.C., to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., cost about $1.7 billion more than expected, the GAO said.
The Pentagon has estimated that about 20 percent of its military bases and infrastructure is underutilized and should be shut down or merged.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com