Defense Study Re-Ignites Debate over Base Closings

The Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) program shut down Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC., in 2005. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
The Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) program shut down Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC., in 2005. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Armed with a new study on excess space, the Defense Department says it will mothball parts of military installations or attempt wholesale shutdowns unless Congress approves another base-closing round.

A key congressional committee says not so fast.

The House Armed Services readiness panel, chaired by Northern Neck Republican Rob Wittman, has approved language that rejects the administration's request for another Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) commission in 2019. It is part of the proposed 2017 defense authorization bill.

The committee left open the door for more study, just not the one the department is currently peddling.

"We're not against looking at another BRAC," said Wittman, R-Westmoreland. "But let's make sure we're doing it on parameters set by Congress."

Wittman's panel has endorsed language that calls for another study of excess inventory. It doesn't spell out specifics, but Wittman said he would like to see a comparison of space based on fiscal year 2012 troop levels.

The Defense Department's study released last month shows 22 percent excess capacity based on fiscal year 2019 force levels.

The congressman said 2019 is not the best yardstick, because Congress might put the brakes on troop draw-downs between now and then.

"The reality we're dealing with is close to fiscal year 2012," he said.

Congress has repeatedly rebuffed the Obama administration's BRAC requests. The last one came in 2005. It closed Fort Monroe in Hampton and threatened Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach. It reshuffled major commands and changed how forces were aligned. It resulted in two joint-base operations locally: Langley Air Force Base and Fort Eustis on the Peninsula, and Fort Story and Little Creek in South Hampton Roads.

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Military Bases Congress Budget