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White House Opposes Base Closure Catch

The White House is objecting to a Senate proposal that would restrict the Defense Department's ability to begin another round of base closures.

The chamber's version of the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, which sets policy goals and spending targets for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, would require that the Pentagon review its overseas infrastructure before beginning another phase of base realignment and closure, known as BRAC.

The Obama administration "strongly objects" to the provision, saying "the effort to configure our overseas infrastructure in a more efficient way should not prevent the authorization of another round of BRAC analysis for domestic bases," according to a Nov. 19 statement.

The Pentagon’s proposed budget for 2014 included $2.4 billion in upfront military construction costs for the effort over five years through fiscal 2018. Comptroller Bob Hale has said the bulk of the proposed funding would be spent over three years beginning in fiscal 2016.

The Senate legislation would also require John Conger, the acting deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment, to submit a report on the 2005 joint basing initiative to the congressional defense committees, including the Senate Armed Services Committee, led by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich.

Under the program, the Defense Department created a dozen joint bases around the country by consolidating 26 installations that either shared a boundary, or were located close to each other. For example, the Army's Fort Lewis near Tacoma, Wash., and the Air Force's McChord Air Force Base became Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

The consolidation of infrastructure was supposed to save money in part by eliminating redundant services to train and equip forces. However, government auditors now say the savings may be minimal because the installations adopted costly new standards for everything from airfield operations to ground maintenance.

The Pentagon's estimated savings from the effort over two decades has declined almost 90 percent to about $250 million from $2.3 billion, according to an April report from the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno said the service is reviewing its commitment to joint basing, which has been problematic. "It's time for us to do an assessment," he said last month during a panel discussion at the Association of the United States Army conference in Washington, D.C.

"Some of us are saying: 'Are we getting benefits out of it? Is it working? Are we having problems?' Because in some places, we are having problems with joint basing," Odierno said. "So we're taking a hard look at this ... then we'll move forward on what we think the way ahead is."

The Senate is debating the defense bill this week and plans to vote on the legislation before leaving Nov. 21 for an 11-day Thanksgiving recess. The House of Representatives has already passed its version of the annual defense legislation, including language to block funding to begin the process of shuttering installations.

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