In dozens of communities throughout the country, people
are scrambling to save local military bases from closing, fearing that inclusion
on the final Base Realignment and Closure list could spell economic catastrophe.
Although the process has generated sporadic national coverage, the intensity
and the tone of local media coverage underscores the potential serious local consequences
for communities dependent on the military installation.
about the BRAC program include pleas to "Think about us" or warnings
about possible consequences of base closings such as "Region's economy tied
to fate of military bases."
or T-shirts at support rallies call on the BRAC Commission -- the entity reviewing
the Pentagon's proposal before submitting it to President Bush -- to reverse some
base closure recommendations: "No BRAC/No Ghost Town/No way."
and municipal leaders also have made impassioned pleas to the BRAC Commission
and the public, explaining how vital local bases are and how closing them will
have severe economic impacts on their region.
And the political and business
leaders have deluged the commission with reams of statistics and dire economic
"The loss of 538 military personnel represents 12 percent
of the total personnel at the base," Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo told
the commission in June in an effort to make his case regarding Mountain Home Air
Force Base and Gowen Field. "That loss represents payroll of over $20 million
that would vanish from the small local economy."
Fairfax County Executive
Tony Griffin told the Connection Newspaper in June that the impact of BRAC in
Northern Virginia will cost the county $1.5 billion because 18,420 jobs from the
Reston and Bailey's Crossroads area would be moved to Fort Belvoir, Virginia or
Fort Meade, Maryland. The result of that move, Griffin warned, would reduce the
amount of commercial real estate taxes collected if the department relocates.
An economic impact study conducted by the University of South Carolina
and Georgia Southern University and cited by a local "save our bases"
committee stated that base closures in the Beaufort, S.C. area would drive younger
people out of the state, which in turn would impact real estate value and tax
Maine officials, meanwhile, predict a recession within the next
five years and a loss of 12,000 jobs if the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard or the Defense,
Finance and Accounting Service office in Limestone are closed, as the Department
of Defense has recommended.
Accounts of what may happen if bases are relocated
or closed are sometimes disputed.
One study by the Rand Corporation in 1996
on three base closures in California -- Castle Air Force Base, George Air Force
Base and Fort Ord -- concluded that the closures would not have devastating impacts.
Similarly, Pentagon officials have made the argument that many base closings
end up benefiting the localities.
"It's helpful to note that many local
economies impacted by previous BRAC decisions successfully found ways to get positive
results out of a situation that at first must have seemed dire -- which of course,
is a tribute to the ingenuity and resilience of the American people," Secretary
of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in May.
Rumsfeld highlighted several examples
of this, including Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire, 55 miles north of Boston.
The base, the first installation closed under BRAC on March 31, 1991, was on the
list because environmental studies of the former aircraft maintenance facility
found groundwater and soil contamination from jet fuel and industrial solvents.
it closed, the base was transferred to the Pease Development Authority and converted
into an airport, which has provided 2,466 secondary jobs within the community,
according to Globalsecurity.org.
Another example Rumsfeld cited was Williams
Air Force Base in Arizona. According to Globalsecurity.org, after the base closed
in 1993, more than 3,800 jobs and $300 million in annual economic activity were
community mobilized and redeveloped the base into Williams Gateway Airport, which
"has attracted many civilian jobs and its education center is bringing in
thousands of students," the secretary said.
He cautioned, however,
that "all affected communities will not be able to replicate such results,
of course, but every effort will be made to assist."
The Defense Department is helping such communities by providing
job assistance training and economic adjustment assistance through
the department's Office of Economic Adjustment.
The office's job is to provide "a community-based context for assessing
economic hardships caused by the Department of Defense's program changes by identifying
and evaluating alternative courses of action, identifying resource requirements,
and assisting in the preparation of an adjustment strategy or action plan to help
communities help themselves."
The office also conducts a Joint Land
Use Study to develop new uses for former military bases.
of Defense and local efforts, many communities are still recovering from previous
BRAC rounds. According to the Government Accountability Office, "In counties
where military bases closed between 1969 and 1988, two-thirds of the communities
regained as many civilian jobs as were lost. However, rural base-closing counties
lost more than twice as large a proportion of total employment through civilian
on-base job cuts as did metro base-closings."
The Congressional Research
Services, a nonpartisan service of the Library of Congress, released a report
on May 18, 2005 that looked into the socioeconomic impacts of past base closures.
The report concluded, "Many rural areas may experience substantially greater
and long-term economic dislocation from a base closing than urban and suburban
areas. Rural areas with less diversified local economies may be more dependent
on the base as a key economic asset."
The report also warned that
"small-area economic impact analysis can be a difficult undertaking. Assumptions
and supporting statistical reasoning may lead to predictions that are, in hindsight
at least, inaccurate."
Besides an immediate impact on local jobs and
spending, a base closing also can lead to reductions in tax revenues and population-based
funding sources, which in turn affects local government services. The CRS report
stated that "school districts with a high proportion of children from military
families can experience significant declines in enrollment. With these effects
can come related reductions in state and/or federal funding. With the importance
given to joint service activity in this BRAC round, many bases would see their
functions moved to other bases. Other bases, however, would greatly expand, creating
potentially significant impacts on schools, housing, traffic and local government
Defense officials counter that realigning the nation's
bases will improve the overall efficiency of the military, saving $48.8 billion
over 20 years, which will then be invested in new weapons and higher salaries
for troops. But for communities, especially in rural areas, bracing for the closure
or reduction of bases, the economic benefits of BRAC come at a potentially high