The Pentagon has taken a new tack in pushing for another round of base closings by emphasizing boosts to readiness over cost savings.
At a Heritage Foundation forum Tuesday in Washington, D.C., Lucian Niemeyer, who began last month as assistant defense secretary for energy, installations and environment, said Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has given him firm directions on pressing the politically unpopular issue of base closings to Congress.
House and Senate members tend to agree with Pentagon estimates that the military has about 22 percent excess capacity at installations, but agreement stops when a facility deemed excess is in their state.
The disagreements nearly derailed the last round of base closings in 2005 under the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC), and arguments can still be heard in Congress about whether the 2005 round generated savings.
"You go back to Secretary Mattis' three priorities when he took over as secretary of defense," Niemeyer said. "He wants to address readiness concerns immediately, he wants to increase military capabilities, and he wants to enhance lethality."
"From my perspective, working for him, the BRAC process offers us the opportunity to address readiness by providing our forces the best possible ranges and installations for them to be stationed at," Niemeyer said.
"Most of all, it allows us to quickly and effectively enhance the lethality of our forces by coming up with ideal stationing opportunities for combined arms," he said. "For us, it's not just a matter of finding efficiencies, it's a matter of improving the military value and the effectiveness and lethality of our military forces."
The Pentagon is backing an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act proposed by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Arizona, and ranking committee member Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, that would set up another BRAC round in 2021.
The Senate amendment has the support of Rep. Adam Smith, D-Washington, the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, but committee chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, is noncommittal.
"I'll definitely look at it," Thornberry said of the amendment at the Defense News Conference on Wednesday in Arlington, Virginia, but "I've got some basic questions."
He added, "How much is it going to cost? If you're going to have another BRAC, what size is your Army? What size is your Navy? How much wiggle room do you want to leave for contingencies that may happen?"
Niemeyer stressed he does not have a hit list for base closings.
"Until we get an authorization, there will be no analysis," he said. "The notion that there is a list of base closures running around the Department of Defense is absolutely false."
Under the proposed Senate amendment, the total upfront costs of another BRAC round would have to be under $5 billion. Each closure would have to pay for itself within 10 years, and the overall list of closures would have to achieve a net savings within seven years.