Base closures: BRAC's back again
Sept. 5, 2001
I believe we need to close some military bases, but I think we must go a step further by reevaluating the way bases are to be closed, and we must also think long and hard before putting training bases and other domestic military assets on the chopping block, especially in light of America's new role in a post Cold War world.
When I first came to Congress, closing military bases was a much simpler task. The process was straightforward. Military leaders at the Pentagon made recommendations to Congress as to what facilities they felt should be closed. Then, Congress made the sometimes hard decision to eliminate a base, which almost always had serious implications for the host community.
It was not easy, but then again nobody ever said being a Congressman or U.S. Senator was supposed to be easy.
Fast forward to the three base closure rounds of the 1990s, and the advent of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC). This so-called independent board was supposed to take the politics out of base closure.
Instead of putting Senators or Representatives on the spot, the BRAC would essentially be a buffer, making the decisions and insulating Congress from the tough and controversial votes which can have a devastating impact on local economies and local people.
What ensued was a costly process in which BRAC has become as political, if not more political, than the old way. Communities throughout our country have even felt compelled to hire high-priced lawyers and put together teams of local leaders to donate time and money lobbying the BRAC somewhat supplanting the traditional role of elected representatives as the ultimate voice for local interests.
After three rounds of BRAC in the last ten years, there remains to be seen a significant demonstration of cost savings which is supposed to be the whole point of base closure.
BRAC has now been repackaged by its supporters as the "Efficient Facilities Initiative of 2001," Though the new title sounds a little less threatening to local communities, it is essentially a warmed-over version of BRAC.
So, with another BRAC round threatened, I want to reassure Mississippians that I remain ardently opposed to the BRAC by any name, as I always have been. If we are to close bases, I believe it should be limited to one round. Furthermore, I believe Congress itself should do this difficult job, instead of an unelected commission.
Last year, I helped lead a successful charge to stop a BRAC round before it happened. This year, I am prepared to do the same thing. There is no guarantee of success, but there are some very significant factors which I believe are on the side of Mississippi's base communities today, which were not a factor in previous BRAC rounds.
First, while many bases have excess capacity, our training bases do not. America's training capacity has already been cut to the bone. With new kinds of threats emerging every day, we can no longer afford to downsize our military, as we were doing during the last three closure rounds.
Training installations like those in Mississippi are especially needed right now as America begins to rebuild her military. At present, there is a wide, bipartisan consensus in Washington which holds that we are going to need our training bases, especially as we begin to rebuild our military and train new soldiers, sailors, and airmen.
That is why I am suggesting that all training facilities be kept off any potential base closure list.
Second, throughout our country many of our military bases in urban areas are facing serious issues of encroachment. More people and businesses have surrounded the bases, oftentimes creating concerns about public safety and noise even prompting lawsuits against the military.
However, in Mississippi this is not a significant problem, as most of our installations have ample room to expand. This menacing condition, which has manifested itself only recently, cannot be overlooked. Given this situation, we should be expanding bases like Naval Air Station Meridian and Columbus Air Force Base, which are set apart from local residential and commercial centers.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, America's role in the world has changed dramatically. I have been a very vocal advocate of first closing foreign military installations over domestic ones, many of which have the excess capacity I mentioned earlier.
The reason is simple: the Cold War has been over for more than a decade, yet we still have thousands and thousands of Americans guarding Central Europe on Cold War era installations. Who are we protecting the Europeans from? The Russians? Not anymore. Each other? Highly unlikely.
So, outside of the U.S. having a basic forward presence from which to respond to other world hot spots rapidly, I see no need for the level of forces currently deployed in Europe.
The Continental Europeans especially should assume more of the burden of their own defense, and more of a role in world peacekeeping efforts. These are wealthy, affluent and capable nations with diversified economies that can certainly cope with the closure of a few Cold War era U.S. military bases.
It is certainly a concept worth entertaining that could save the American taxpayer a great deal of money, and help support our people right here at home.
Write to U.S. Sen. Trent Lott at 487 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510 (Attention: Press Office).