A subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives has voted to block funding for a new round of military base closures.
The House Armed Services' readiness subcommittee on May 23 voted to prohibit the Defense Department from beginning the process of shuttering installations in what's officially known as Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC. The language was included in its draft of the 2014 defense authorization bill, which sets policy goals and spending targets for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.
"It simply doesn't make sense at this time from any perspective, fiscal or otherwise," Rep. Robert Wittman, R-Va., the subcommittee's chairman, said during a brief hearing. "It's premature to expend dollars we don't have to fix a problem we're not sure exists."
The Pentagon's proposed budget for 2014 included $2.4 billion in upfront military construction costs for the five-year period through fiscal 2018.
During an April 17 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Pentagon Comptroller Bob Hale said the bulk of the proposed funding would be spent over three years beginning in fiscal 2016.
A commission 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 about 50,000 workers, he has said.
Lawmakers have criticized the funding amount as unrealistic. The Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, in a March report said the construction costs for a similar process undertaken in 2005 almost doubled from the initial estimate of $13.2 billion to $24.5 billion.
A decision on whether to begin consolidating military bases should be made after lawmakers have a chance to review and debate the Pentagon's findings from ongoing strategic and budgetary assessments, Wittman said.
"Strategy not budget should drive national security decisions and I won't support a reduction in our infrastructure until I'm confident our nation's readiness and our military won't suffer," he said.
The Pentagon next year plans to spend a total of $606 billion. That figure includes a base budget of $526.6 billion and $79.4 billion for the war in Afghanistan, according to figures the department disclosed on May 20. It doesn’t include the next round of automatic federal budget cuts, known as sequestration, which may total as much as $51 billion.
The full House Armed Services Committee on June 5 is expected to vote on the bill, H.R.1960.