Why BRAC Exists
The 2005 Base Realignment and Closure program traces its roots
back to the 1960s, when President John F. Kennedy sought to reconfigure
a military designed to face new Cold War challenges. It is a connection
current Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld emphasized when outlining
the goals of the George W. Bush administration in implementing
the latest round of base closures.
1961 President Kennedy took office and found a U.S. Defense establishment
that was still largely arranged to refight World War II,"
Rumsfeld said on May 12, 2005. "He ordered an extensive consolidation
of bases to meet the challenges of the Cold War that was then
flaring into a somewhat dangerous phase. Subsequent presidents
have continued to refine U.S. military infrastructure as threats
to our country have evolved."
Rumsfeld further said that BRAC 2005 was designed, in the traditions
of the past, to once again realign U.S. forces, this time away
from Cold War capabilities and toward fighting a new war "against
extremists and other evolving 21st Century threats."
But in order to transform the military through base closures,
Rumsfeld and President Bush must, by law, work with an independent
commission and get their plan approved by Congress. Their predecessors
in the 1960s were able to act independently.
According to GlobalSecurity.org, the Kennedy and Johnson administrations
closed some 60 bases based on criteria established by the Defense
Department. In 1965, President Johnson preserved the right of
the president to close bases independently by vetoing a law that
would have required the executive branch to send its plans to
In 1977, Congress succeeded in carving out a role for itself
in base closures when President Carter signed the Military Construction
Authorization Act. The bill that required the Department of Defense
to notify Congress, as a part of its annual request for funding,
"of the proposed closing or realignment" of any major
military installations and submit "with the notification
an evaluation of the fiscal, local economic, budgetary, environmental,
strategic and operational consequences of such closure or realignment."
If Congress did not respond within 60 days after the requests
and evaluations were submitted, the Department of Defense was
barred from making any changes to the installations.
After the 1977 act, the Department of Defense found it increasingly
difficult to close military bases because members of Congress,
worried about local economic and political impacts, sought to
protect bases in their home states or districts from closure.
Politicians were also accused of using past base closures and
shifts to punish political enemies and reward supporters. Critics
said legislators also practiced "pork barrel" politics
by protecting economically lucrative but militarily less useful
installations in their home states and districts. Between 1977
and 1988 the Pentagon and Congress squared off in a stalemate
that the Washington Post called a period of "political bickering
and parochial interests," blocking all major base closings.
In October of 1988, Rep. Dick Armey, R-Texas, introduced a bill
that he argued would remove political complications in favor of
military considerations and lead to successful reordering of military
installations. The Reagan administration, looking to reorganize
the military, supported the bill.
bill called for an independent bipartisan commission that would
create "base realignment and closure" (BRAC) recommendations
aimed at improving the military capability of the country's armed
services. The list would have to be approved or rejected in its
entirety by both the president and Congress. If the list were
rejected it could be modified once and resubmitted.
The bill passed both houses of Congress by overwhelming majorities
-- 82-7 in the Senate and 370-31 in the House. After its passage
in 1988 the Washington Post said, in turning over decisions to
a commission, Congress was acknowledging its "inability to
ignore pork barrel politics."
Armey countered that Congress had "put the national interest
ahead of parochial interest." He also predicted that few
local communities or politicians would be able to successfully
lobby to keep a base open, urging them to "face harsh reality
and prepare for a period of economic transition."
Congress passed a new base closure bill in 1990. The bill relied
on the original independent commission method from 1988, but stipulated
that the Department of Defense would begin the process by providing
an initial base closure list for the independent panel to begin
The four rounds of base closures using an independent commission
-- 1988, 1991, 1993, and 1995 -- have proven Dick Armey's prediction
to be correct. An average of 85 percent the Department of Defense's
original recommendations have been approved by the commissions,
the White House, and Congress.
In the four previous rounds, 152 major bases were closed or "realigned."
Realignment means a significant number of personnel were added
or removed from the base. The Pentagon estimates the combined
annual savings from previous BRAC rounds to be $7 billion. According
to the Department of Defense, previous BRAC rounds also have "eliminated
21 percent of excess U.S. military infrastructure."
The 2005 BRAC round is expected to yield a total savings of $48.8
billion over 20 years and an annual savings of $5.5 billion, the