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Capitol Hill pushes back against BRAC

Lawmakers were skeptical of the Defense Department's estimate to begin the process of shuttering military bases around the country under a Base Realignment and Closure Commission, known as BRAC.

The proposed budget released this month included $2.4 billion in upfront military construction costs for the five-year period through fiscal 2018.

Sen. Carl Levin, Senate Armed Services chairman, said the Pentagon should have planned to spend money on BRAC sooner if it was serious about starting the process.

“They didn’t put their money where their mouth is this year — they put their money where their mouth is next year,” Levin said, according to an April 16 report in The Hill.

During an April 17 hearing of the panel, Pentagon Comptroller Bob Hale said the bulk of the proposed funding would be spent over three years beginning in fiscal 2016.

The group would convene in 2015 and begin closing bases in 2016, Hale has said. The move would help to reduce the headcount of civilian personnel by about 6 percent, or 50,000 workers, he has said.

Also during the hearing, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and Sen. David Vitter, R-La., were among those who said the estimate seemed exceedingly low, given a recent report from the Government Accountability Office that showed the  construction costs for a similar process undertaken in 2005 almost doubled from the initial estimate of $13.2 billion to $24.5 billion.

Inhofe said his reasons for opposing the creation of a commission nearly a decade ago "are probably more true today."

Congress probably doesn't have a big appetite for anything with significant military construction costs needed up front, Vitter said. "I'm also concerned that that $2.4 billion just seems on a different planet from the last BRAC," he said.

The Pentagon this time around would focus more on closing installations than construction, Hale said. “We’re not going to do 2015 the way we did 2005,” he told lawmakers. “We can’t afford not to do this.”

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