Tag: BRAC

Another BRAC Now

Last month, Congress authorized a massive increase in defense spending as part of a two-year budget deal. In 2018 alone, the Pentagon will receive an additional $80 billion, increasing the topline number to $629 billion. War spending will push the total over $700 billion. Though such a windfall might prompt Defense Department to ignore cost-saving measures, the White House pledged that “DOD will also pursue an aggressive reform agenda to achieve savings that it will reinvest in higher priority needs.” Noticeably absent, however, was another Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), even though Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and at least four of his predecessors, have called for such authority in order to reduce the military’s excess overhead, most recently estimated at 19 percent.

Congress’ unwillingness to authorize a round of base closures should surprise no one. But congressional inaction doesn’t merely undermine military efficiency. In the most recent Strategic Studies Quarterly, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) and I explain how the status quo is actually hurting military communities.

To be sure, closing a military base can be disruptive to surrounding economies, and for some communities it may be economically devastating. But such cases are the exception, not the rule. Evidence shows that most communities recover, and some do so quite rapidly. A 2005 study by the Pentagon Office of Economic Adjustment researched over 70 communities affected by a base closure and determined that nearly all civilian defense jobs lost were eventually replaced.8 The new jobs are in a variety of industries and fields, allowing communities to diversify their economies away from excessive reliance on the federal government.

Rep. Smith and I are not alone in our assessment of the impact that congressional inaction on BRAC has on local communities and our military. In June of last year, over 45 experts from various think tanks of differing ideological and political bents signed onto an open letter urging Congress to authorize a BRAC round.

In a 2016 letter to congressional leaders, then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work explained that “local communities will experience economic impacts regardless of a congressional decision regarding BRAC authorization. This has the harmful and unintended consequence of forcing the Military Departments to consider cuts at all installations, without regard to military value… . Without BRAC, local communities’ ability to plan and adapt to these changes is less robust and offers fewer protections than under BRAC law.”

Further, an overwhelming majority of the communities represented by the Association of Defense Communities would prefer a BRAC to the current alternative. This should not come as a shock because, as Smith and I note, “Local communities have been deprived of the support BRAC would provide and have been denied access to property that could be put to productive use.”

Just to recap, nearly everyone—from think tank experts to DOD officials and from presidents to local community leaders—want a BRAC. Alas, a few key members of Congress stand in opposition.

BRAC has proven to be a fair and efficient process for making the difficult but necessary decisions related to reconfiguring our military infrastructure and defense communities. Rather than continuing to block base closures for parochial reasons, Congress should permit our military the authority to eliminate waste while providing vital defense resources where they are most needed, and give communities the clarity and financial support they need to convert former military bases to new purposes.

If you would like to hear more, Rep. Smith and I will be discussing the issue at the Cato Institute on March 14 at 9 am. Click here for more information and to register.

All We Want for Christmas

If you read the blog regularly, you might have noticed a pattern recently: Cato’s foreign policy scholars weighing in to see if Santa might be able to improve U.S. foreign policy for us. After all, American leaders seem perpetually unwilling to do so, and the Trump administration’s new National Security Strategy doesn’t seem to offer much more hope for a more realistic, sensible approach to foreign policy either.

Our scholars asked for a variety of foreign policy changes, some big and some small. Some would be relatively easy to achieve if the political will were there, such as Chris Preble’s request for a new round of Base Reallocation and Closure (BRAC), or Eric Gomez’s desire for a better North Korea strategy. Others might be more challenging, like Trevor Thrall’s call to rebalance civil-military relations in favor of civilian leadership.

But all the suggestions share one thing in common: they would all make U.S. foreign policy more rational, effective or accountable to the public. You can check them all out here, along with a more satirical take on the question in the Christmas episode of Power Problems, our foreign policy podcast.

So all we want for Christmas is…

 

…a BRAC (Chris Preble)

…Information about U.S. Military Deployments (Emma Ashford)

…to Fight Just the Necessary Wars (Erik Goepner)

Civilian Leadership of U.S. Foreign Policy (Trevor Thrall)

…the Travel Ban to End (Sahar Khan)

…a New North Korea Strategy (Eric Gomez)

…and an F-35 (or just better defense policy, budgeting and a partridge in a pear tree) 

 

The Benefits of Base Closures – Glenview, Illinois Edition

Last month, Secretary of Defense James Mattis urged Congress to allow the Pentagon to reduce its excess overhead. Mattis has requested this authority before – as have at least four of his predecessors (Carter, Panetta, Hagel, and Gates) – but the latest request accompanies a new Pentagon report that assesses the military’s infrastructure needs based on a much larger force structure than the one it has today. Even if the military, and especially the Army, were to grow back to the levels seen when the United States was actively fighting wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq (2012), the DoD is carrying 19 percent excess capacity. Such waste clearly impacts military effectiveness. As Mattis explained in a letter accompanying the report, “every unnecessary facility we maintain requires us to cut capabilities elsewhere.”

Although the leading Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, Adam Smith (D-WA), and a handful of other lawmakers, agree with Mattis’s assessment and would allow the Pentagon to cut such obviously wasteful spending, many others in Congress remain opposed to a new round of base closures. Kay Granger (R-TX), chairwoman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense said in May that she had “never seen [BRAC] save much money.” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) called plans for base closure “disappointing” and “dangerous.” “Clearly, base closure rounds,” Inhofe wrote in September, “cost the American taxpayers an exorbitant amount of money upfront and take years to recoup the initial investment.”

This is incorrect. The closure of hundreds of unnecessary military bases in five successive BRAC rounds has saved American taxpayers billions of dollars. Even the much-maligned fifth and final BRAC round, initiated in 2005, is expected to deliver net savings in 2018. Secretary Mattis explained in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in June that a “properly focused base closure effort” could generate $2 billion or more annually.

But we shouldn’t assess the benefits of base closures solely on the basis of possible savings to the Department of Defense; that amounts to looking through the wrong end of the telescope. Although BRAC does generate real savings, the greater economic benefits accrue to communities near affected bases when they put underutilized facilities to more productive uses. In that sense, military bases aren’t closed, they’re opened.

I visited such a place on Wednesday: the former Glenview Naval Air Station, about 20 miles northwest of Chicago. During World War II, the Navy trained pilots to land on aircraft carriers, in this case, two converted passenger steamers on Lake Michigan. The Navy didn’t have actual aircraft carriers to spare. More than 17,000 naval aviators underwent training at Glenview, including George H.W. Bush.

But the naval air station was included in the 1993 BRAC list, and Glenview took charge of clearing some 1100 acres, funded infrastructure improvements, and subdivided and sold parcels to private developers. About 400 acres were preserved as open space and parkland.

To the untrained eye, few would realize that there was ever a naval base here. I’ve been aware of Glenview for years, even though I had never visited before. I knew what to look for. The street names betray the area’s storied past. Independence and Constitution Avenues are pretty common, and one even encounters the occasional Patriot Boulevard. But one doesn’t often find Nimitz Drive, Kitty Hawk Lane, or Admiral Court in a typical American subdivision. The beautiful homes, many with three-car garages, and backing to golf courses and open space, command top dollar on the real estate market. A review of a few of the listings for the houses with For Sale signs on their front lawns found asking prices between $760,000 and $875,000. Phoebe Co, a realtor with Berkshire Hathaway, explained that condos in the area go for as low as $300,000, but some of the newer townhomes sell for $800,000 or more. Single family homes selling for more than $1 million are not atypical.   

Glenview is a coveted location not merely for its pleasant neighborhoods and ample green space with bike and walking paths. It is also in close proximity to the headquarters of a number of Fortune 500 companies (we drove past Allstate’s sprawling campus on the way back to O’Hare), and an easy commute to downtown Chicago – about 40 minutes by train during rush hour.

The centerpiece of Glenview’s redevelopment of the former base property is The Glen Town Center, which includes retail shops at street level, and apartments above them for rent. These properties are ringed by attractive brick rowhomes. Here one finds the most visible remaining remnant of the former base: the air station’s control tower is now home to a Dick’s Sporting Goods, a Carter’s children clothing store, and a Von Maur department store. Three statues – a pilot, a sailor, and a ground crewman – stand around a fountain across the street. Painted plaques by the store fronts celebrate the many units that served at the base.

Jeanne Fields, assistant property manager for the Aloft apartments, explained that renters value the convenience of living so close to shopping and dining.

The Glen is “very unique,” Fields said. “You don’t usually have urban style living in the suburbs.” People who want city living without the city can get it at The Glen. And they’re willing to pay: rentals start at $1600 for a 1 bedroom, and go as high as $5000 for the largest two-bedroom unit. Fields reported that more than 90 percent of the units are currently occupied.

I strolled around The Glen with my colleague Harrison Moar, stopped in at the ubiquitous Starbucks, and ate lunch at the Yard House (allegedly home of the “World’s Largest Selection of Draft Beers”). The sprawling restaurant can accommodate 250 diners, and seemed surprisingly busy for a Tuesday at Noon. The many families with young children probably weren’t there for the 100+ beers on tap, but Harrison and I might have tried one. Alex at the front told us that this was a pretty typical lunchtime crowd, and that the restaurant was even busier later in the week and on weekends.

Those who believe that base closures will devastate a local economy need to be aware of cases like Glenview (and Philadelphia, and San Francisco, and San Antonio, and Brunswick). To be sure, some places will take longer to recover (e.g. Brooklyn), and a few might never see economic activity comparable to when the nearby bases boomed (e.g. Limestone, Maine).

But those who would keep unnecessary military bases open in order to shield local communities from the possible negative economic impacts are saying, in effect, that their parochial concerns should outweigh the needs of the nation. And elected officials who doubt that their base will ever be successfully converted betray a curious lack of faith in their own constituents’ ability to make productive use of valuable real estate.

HASC vs. SASC on BRAC

Neither of the defense bills (National Defense Authorization Acts, NDAAs) wending their way through the House and Senate grant the Pentagon the authority to reduce excess infrastructure. Military leaders have asked for such permission for many years, but Congress has stubbornly refused. An amendment sponsored by Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) would have stripped the language from the House NDAA that blocks a new Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round. That amendment failed yesterday by a vote of 175-248.

Before the vote, the House Armed Services Committee issued a “BRAC Facts” one pager to preempt the McClintock amendment and other attempts to resolve the impasse between Congress and military leaders over BRAC.

The one pager includes a few facts, but is selective to the point of misleading. For example, it states that Secretary of Defense James Mattis “does not have confidence in DOD BRAC assessments.” And quotes Mattis as saying “I am not comfortable right now that we have a full 20 some percent excess.” 

But the SecDef also said that a new BRAC round could save the Pentagon $2 billion a year. In written testimony last month, Mattis called BRAC “a cornerstone of our efficiencies program” and necessary to “ensure we do not waste taxpayer dollars.” Granting the Pentagon authority to reduce overhead, Mattis continued, “is essential to improving our readiness by minimizing wasted resources and accommodating force adjustments.” He observed, “Of all the efficiency measures the Department has undertaken over the years, BRAC is one of the most successful and significant.”

Meanwhile, deputy defense secretary Robert Work has also called for BRAC. “Spending resources on excess infrastructure does not make sense,” he wrote last year. In short, it simply isn’t accurate to imply that current Pentagon leaders doubt whether the military has more bases than it needs. And that is true even if the military were to grow in the next few years, as the HASC claims it must.

Teaching Congress about the Benefits of Base Closures

I spent the latter part of last week on a too-short trip to Alicante, Spain, to present some of my latest work on the reuse of former defense facilities in the United States. The occasion was a conference on “Defence Heritage” – the third since 2012 – hosted by the Wessex Institute (.pdf) in which scholars from more than a dozen countries shared their findings about how various defense installations around the world have been repurposed for everything from recreational parks to educational institutions to centers of business and enterprise.

This sort of research is sorely needed as Congress appears poised to deny the Pentagon’s request to close unneeded or excess bases. It is the fifth time that Congress has told the military that it must carry surplus infrastructure, and continue to misallocate resources where they aren’t needed, in order to protect narrow parochial interests in a handful of congressional districts that might house an endangered facility.

In a cover letter to a new Pentagon report that provides ample justification for the need to close bases, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work explained:

Under current fiscal restraints, local communities will experience economic impacts regardless of a congressional decision regarding BRAC authorization. This has the harmful and unintended consequence of forcing the Military Departments to consider cuts at all installations, without regard to military value. A better alternative is to close or realign installations with the lowest military value. Without BRAC, local communities’ ability to plan and adapt to these changes is less robust and offers fewer protections than under BRAC law.

Work is almost certainly correct. But in my latest post at The National Interest’s The Skeptics, I urge him “and other advocates for another BRAC round” not to “limit themselves to green-eyeshade talk of cost savings and greater efficiency. They must also show how former defense sites don’t all become vast, barren wastelands devoid of jobs and people.”

It obviously isn’t enough to stress the potential savings, even though the savings are substantial. The DoD report estimates that the five BRAC rounds, plus the consolidation of bases in Europe, have generated annual recurring savings of $12.5 billion, and that a new BRAC round would save an additional $2 billion per year, after a six-year implementation period. A GAO study conducted in 2002 concluded that “BRAC savings are real and substantial and are related to cost reduction in key operational areas.”

Members of Congress who are uninterested in such facts, and who remain adamantly opposed to any base closures, anywhere, should consider what has actually happened to many of the bases dealt with during the five BRAC rounds, and the hundreds of other bases closed in the 1950s and 60s, before there was a BRAC. 

They don’t have to go far. They could start by speaking with the Association of Defense Communities and the Pentagon’s Office of Economic Adjustment, who keep track of these stories.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) could visit Austin-Bergstrom International Airport in Austin, Texas. He probably has, many times. The closure of Bergstrom Air Force Base was a thinly disguised blessing for a city that had struggled for years to find an alternative for its inadequate regional airport. Austin-Bergstrom today services millions of passengers, and has won awards for its design and customer service.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Chair of the Senate Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee, might stop by the former Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, during one of her trips home. One of the very first bases closed under the BRAC process, the sprawling site still hosts several massive runways, and the 157th Air Refueling Wing of the Air National Guard. But the base has chiefly been reborn as the Pease International Tradeport, which is now home to over 250 businesses that employ more than 10,000 people.

And both would benefit from a visit to the former Brunswick Naval Air Station in my home state of Maine. They used to launch P-3 submarine-hunting airplanes (pictured), now they host dozens of businesses, including 28 start-ups in a new business incubator, TechPlace, that opened 14 months ago. 

It’s particularly lovely in the summer time, if you don’t mind all the tourists. If they go, Thornberry and Ayotte should talk to some of the people who are responsible for its rapid turnaround, including Steve Levesque, the Executive Director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority (MRRA), who contributed a chapter in this forthcoming volume on the renovation and reuse of former military sites, and Jeffrey Jordan, the MRRA’s Deputy Director, who I interviewed in 2014. I’m sure they’d be happy to show HASC and SASC members around Brunswick Landing.