BRAC recommendations follow lengthy process

  • Published
  • By Jim Garamone
  • American Forces Press Service
Few people dispute that the U.S. military has too much infrastructure to face the threats and opportunities of the 21st century. The question is, what is the best way to close or realign installations to match challenges of the new world?

Since 1988, the answer has been the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, and that process continues to move ahead with a new round in 2005.

While closing an individual base can be a problem, the process is designed to be nonpartisan, officials said. The first BRAC round came during the Reagan administration, the second in the first Bush administration and the third and fourth were under President Clinton.

Former Defense Secretary William S. Cohen first proposed the current round soon after taking office in 1997, officials said. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has been asking for a new round of closures and realignments since taking office in January 2001.

BRAC is a challenging process, officials said. The four previous BRAC rounds -- in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995 -- brought about 97 major closures, 55 major realignments and 235 minor actions, according to Defense Department figures. Overall, officials said closing and realigning these installations saved American taxpayers about $18 billion through fiscal 2001 and a further $7 billion per year since.

A BRAC report submitted in March 2004 estimated there is a 24-percent excess capacity in DOD.

Civilian and military leaders in the department have stressed that the military must become more agile and flexible to face the new challenges. Officials have repeatedly said the BRAC process must be seen as part of a larger effort to restructure the global footprint of the U.S. military. As part of this, U.S. bases overseas will close or morph into nonpermanent installations. Officials estimate the number of troops in Europe will drop from 100,000 to about 50,000.

In Korea, the number of U.S. forces is already dropping from 34,000, but officials have not released a final target number for troops on the peninsula.

The BRAC 2005 process builds on lessons learned from past rounds. Essentially, this year's legislation took previous versions and amended them, officials said.

This year's BRAC round was part of the 2002 National Defense Authorization Act. The process began with a memorandum from Secretary Rumsfeld to defense leaders titled "Transformation Through Base Realignment and Closure."

By the end of 2003, DOD officials published the draft selection criteria. In March 2004, department officials submitted the force-structure plan and infrastructure inventory to Congress. The next month, Congress approved the final selection criteria.

In March 2005, the president nominated the commissioners that will serve on the BRAC Commission. This month, Secretary Rumsfeld will send the department's closure and realignment recommendations to the commission, officials said.

This year's BRAC Commission members are former Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi, commission chairman; former Nevada Rep. James H. Bilbray; Philip Coyle, a former DOD director of operational test and evaluation; retired Navy Adm. Harold W. Gehman Jr., a former commander of U.S. Joint Forces Command; former Utah Rep. James V. Hansen; retired Army Gen. James T. Hill, former commander of U.S. Southern Command; retired Gen. Lloyd "Fig" Newton, former commander of Air Education and Training Command; former Transportation Secretary Samuel K. Skinner; and retired Brig. Gen. Sue Ellen Turner, former director of nursing services for the Air Force surgeon general.

The basic process is simple, officials said. The military services and joint cross-service groups develop closure and realignment recommendations. Military value is the primary consideration.

The law also mandates that department officials use a 20-year force-structure plan in forming their recommendations.

The services examine each base's "service-unique" function. In a difference this year, cross-service groups will analyze functions that cross service lines. For example, all services have warehouses. So a joint group will analyze warehouse functions for all the services, officials said.

Cross-service groups are examining seven functional areas: educational and training, headquarters and support activities, industrial, intelligence, medical, supply and storage, and technical.

The most recent previous BRAC round used similar joint-service groups, but they could not make recommendations to the secretary. This year, recommendations from the joint groups are considered by the secretary the same way the services' submissions are.

Officials said Secretary Rumsfeld will publish his recommendations in the Federal Register by May 16 and will submit his recommendations to the BRAC Commission and Congress.

Once he submits his recommendations, the commission will hold hearings and examine the recommendations. The commission process runs through September. The commission sends an "all-or-nothing list" to the president, meaning the president can approve all of the closures and realignments on the list or disapprove the entire list. If he approves, the list goes to Congress.

The House and Senate have 45 "legislative days" to disapprove the list. If they do nothing, the list automatically is approved and has the "force and effect of law," officials said.