Base Realignment

Federal Times — Base Realignment: New Approach To Delicate Task

Previous base-closure efforts, known as base realignment and closure, or BRAC, began in the 1990s after the end of the Cold War. Four closure rounds shuttered 97 major military installations and 352 smaller ones across the country. But Congress and the Clinton White House brought the process to a screeching halt in 1995.

Now BRAC is embraced by the Bush White House as it pushes for cost-cutting efficiencies and by Pentagon officials who aim to transform the military into a more flexible fighting machine more reliant on information than heavy armor. DuBois, as the deputy undersecretary of Defense for installations and environment, has the reins to the effort. He hopes this BRAC will be different from base closings of the past by encouraging the military services to share resources and technology, and take greater advantage of what may be available in the private sector.

“It’s not your father’s BRAC anymore,” DuBois said during an interview at his Pentagon office. “Closure is not necessarily the operative word — it is realignment. We’ll be moving assets from one base to another. There will certainly be closures, but there may be a lot more realignment than we have anticipated.”

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Seven joint-service groups focusing on specific issues will also be pitching in for those collective decisions as they share assets and ideas about areas that embrace similar functions, including education and training, industrial affairs, logistics, shipyards, medicine, intelligence, and technical laboratories.

“Why should every service have its warehouses and its own distribution and its own information systems that control inventory?” DuBois asks. “Look at the way Wal-Mart works and let’s see if we can apply those disciplines, technologies and management skills to a more jointly managed supply and storage distribution process.”

DuBois poses more questions than answers about these discussions, but the questions reflect a predisposition for integrating the services with an eye on what the private sector can provide.

“When you do a BRAC, you cannot just look at what the military services own in terms of assets, you have to look at what can be done in the private sector,” he said. “You don’t necessarily want to duplicate things.”

This makes an enormous amount of sense. Consolidation of duplicate facilities has been advocated literally for decades with only minimal result. I’m more than mildly surprised that they’re getting away with doing this in a top-down fashion with limited congressional oversight. Congress, because of its nature as a 535-member constituent service institituion, is a natural obstacle to any of these moves because of local impact. Indeed, that’s why the BRAC process was created to begin with; it essentially delegated the hard choices to a blue ribbon panel and Congress could only vote up or down. The process was, unfortunately, destroyed by the Clinton Administration, which put substantial pressure on the commision to prevent the closure of key bases in California and elsewhere, crucial for his 1996 reelection campaign, from making the list. By re-politicizing the process, the rationale behind the BRAC movement was undermined.

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Jem says:

    From my research (for a Joint Forces Staff College paper I wrote), I got the impression it was always a top-down process in which the military services made a set of recommendations to the Commission, which in turn made a set of recommendations to the Secretary (who then had the power to kill the process, ask the Commission to reconsider, or send it forward to the President for his review/rejection and submission to Congress). The thing that kept the process from dragging was presumably the attention that could be brought to whichever political/executive entity failed to keep the process moving.

  2. Harry says:

    One of the projects I worked on in the mid-90s involved an attempt to standardize the way the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines inspected their various bases and facilities. I was amazed at the differences, and the provincialism, that were brought to light. Something as seemingly straightforward as inspecting a chiller unit would produce hours of debate and argument. This is a worthwhile goal, and could yield significant benefits, but the obstacles are many, and involves political will at many levels.

  3. legion says:

    I think this is a Good Thing. Now that we’re not worried about Soviet ICBMs raining down on us, there’s really no excuse (other than local economies) to spread our forces all across the map. The Air Force’s old ‘one wing, one base’ philosophy was good before the Berlin Wall fell, but it’s time to move back to fewer ‘superbases’. Maybe the old facilities can be used for deployment exercises…

    The real interesting question is whether they’ll take this opportunity to create some real ‘joint’ bases…

  4. delta dave says:

    ‘”Why should every service have its warehouses and its own distribution and its own information systems that control inventory?” DuBois asks’

    Actually this was one of the safeguards the Founding Fathers put in place at the birth of this great nation. They lived in fear of large standing armies, which is why after every war we quickly disbanded the Army. For the US to maintain a large standing Army during peacetime is a modern phenomena. But even in doing so, it should be noted that at least half the Army was stationed outside the continential United States.

    It is also why the Army and Navy are funded differently by Congress and why the Army doesn’t get multi-year funding while the Navy does. The Founding Fathers want to keep a close hold on the Army, but the same fears did not hold for the Navy as the ability of a Navy to overthrow a government or occupy ground mass was limited. It also is a significant contribution behind fostering the “interservice” rivalry.

    One of the major drivers behind the National Defense Act of 1948 was to ensure civilian control over the military while at the same time preventing the creation of a centralized military staff on the German military staff model. The Act limits both the size of Department staffs and limits tour lengths to prevent growing a permanent military staff.

    So….. while all these initiative to centeralize and streamline are wonderful for efficiency, they will still run into “irrational” opposition from folks carring forward the Founding Father’s concerns for large standing military forces and centralize command and control.

  5. McGehee says:

    We might not be worried anymore about Soviet ICBMs, but it may be premature to assume that the generic worry is past. Are we best friends yet with everybody who has, or is trying to get, the ability to “rain down” nukes on us?

    I don’t think so.

    There are valid reasons to close military bases where appropriate, but the end of the Cold War isn’t one of them.

  6. Attila Girl says:

    I had the impression that the type of threat we face today is different in kind that the one we faced from the Soviets: that, notwithstanding the possible nuclear capabilities of our current foes, they are more likely these days to be “freelancers” (not officially affiliated with a nation) and to represent smaller forces. As I understand it, we are dealing with smaller institutions, and need to rely on brains more than sheer brawn in our approach.

    I suspect that the best answer to the potential nuclear threat is to get much better intelligence, and stop it before it happens . . .

  7. McGehee says:

    Absolutely — but nations don’t survive very long if their military planners consider only the best-case scenario.