HASC Vice Chair dismisses proposed base closures

Rep. Mac Thornberry, House Armed Services Committee vice chair, expects his colleagues to push back against any Pentagon recommendation for an additional round of base closures.

Rep. Mac Thornberry, House Armed Services Committee vice chairman, quickly dismissed reports the Pentagon will request two new rounds of base closures calling the earlier round of closures “bitter” and questioned how much closing those bases saved the Defense Department.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will announce at 2 p.m. Thursday what the Pentagon plans to cut in order to meet the $487 billion reduction in defense spending over the next ten years. Panetta will recommend two rounds of base closures in 2013 and 2015 as part of those cuts, according to reports.

The Defense Department went through this process in 2005 with the last bases closing in 2011. Congress stood up the Base Closure and Realignment Commission to make recommendations to the president on which bases to close. The scars remain fresh from the contentious hearings and political in-fighting amongst Congressmen who fought to keep bases in their district.

Officials recommended the next round of base closures start in 2015. Panetta wants to push that up two years adding an additional round of closure to merry up with the force reductions.

Thornberry said he’s not eager to go through more rounds of base closures and expects Congress to stick to the planned 2015 date.

Congress is looking for ways to save the Pentagon from sequestration and a $1.2 trillion cut over the next ten years. Thornberry and his colleagues want to find immediate savings. Thornberry said Congress doesn’t need to find all $500 billion this year to avoid sequestration. It only needs to find $40 billion to $50 billion to postpone further cuts.

“I think there’s some low hanging fruit we could find,” said Thornberry, who spoke Thursday morning at a Brookings event at the Reserve Officer’s Association in Washington D.C.

Closing bases costs the Defense Department money up front to move people and equipment. Studies found the military would not realize considerable savings until at least five years after the bases close.

The U.S. military will get smaller, however, as the defense budget shrinks. The Army is expected to reduce its end strength from 570,000 down to 490,000. Without as many soldiers, defense leaders argue the military should close bases to save money.

Defense analysts at the Brookings events suggested Panetta and other Pentagon leaders know just how distasteful the BRAC experience was  for Congress. Proposing two  more rounds of base closures could serve as motivation to Congress to reduce the proposed defense spending cuts.