Re-evaluating Base Closings

Sept. 20, 2005
The impact of these base closings goes far beyond the present and future of our military forces.

Defense base closings have been as much a part of recent military news as the war in Iraq. The Department of Defense (DoD) has proposed consolidating a total of 62 major domestic US military bases and over 770 smaller installations in order to save the US government $48.8 billion through the year 2025. The closings are also meant to make the armed services more efficient and agile.

The impact of these base closings goes far beyond the present and future of our military forces, however. In New Jersey, for example, the Pentagon has proposed the closing of Fort Monmouth among other bases. Although military records show only 620 military personnel on the base, it is also home to more than 4600 civilian personnel. Part of the Pentagon's plans for closing such bases included moving military personnel to other bases. For the civilians, however, it simply amounts to a loss of jobs.

As part of the review process for the Pentagon's plan, Congress established the 2005 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) to examine the sense and sensibility of the DoD's base-closing plans. After four days of deliberation late last month, BRAC Chairman Anthony Principi reported that the commission had rejected Air Force proposals to cut planes from various Air National Guard locations and, contrary to the Air Force's wishes, had voted against closing Ellsworth Air Force Base in South Dakota. The DoD and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had called for nearly 30 Air National Guard units to lose aircraft. The BRAC's revisions restored planes to some units and kept open some Air National Guard and Reserve bases that might have closed otherwise. The BRAC also indicated that the almost $49 billion in savings proposed by the Pentagon may have been a tad "optimistic," and that the real number may be more in the neighborhood of $37 billion over the next two decades.

The BRAC's decisions are still subject to Presidential approval. But, for the most part, their proposals show vision and wisdom. Their thinking on the Air National Guard, for example, is meant to evenly distribute aircraft to ensure a responsive homeland security force.

The efforts on the part of the DoD to save money are laudable but, as the BRAC noted in their final review, based on questionable accounting. That accounting excluded expenses for moving military personnel from one base to another, for example. And there are the long-term effects on the communities around a Fort Monmouth and other bases targeted for closing. Any cost savings should not be at the expense of those our troops are fighting to protect. Certainly, careful review of the long-term costs of a large program such as the Future Combat System (FCS) may reveal savings that won't cost jobs.