The nominee for U.S. defense secretary, former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, wrote senators he would consider using rounds of Base Realignment and Closures as a way to get the Department of Defense budget under control and eliminate unneeded military facilities.
Hagel, a Republican, filed a 112-page response to policy questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee. Hagel's confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee was held Thursday.
"I also think any prudent manager has to look at all options when faced with significant budget pressures," Hagel stated in his response. "As with industry, the Department should examine its infrastructure and eliminate excess. The BRAC process is not perfect, but I believe BRAC is a fair and comprehensive way to right-size the department's footprint, and is the best process identified to date. If confirmed, I would have to look at the need for BRAC in the future."
U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, said the idea of another BRAC has been floating around the Pentagon for "quite some time."
Enyart, who was elected in November and is a retired commander of the Illinois National Guard, has promised to fight to keep Scott Air Force Base open. The base has more than 13,000 military and civilian employees and is by far the region's largest employer. The air base's economic impact on the St. Louis region is estimated at $3 billion annually.
"The DoD is pushing for a BRAC as a way to reduce expenses and reduce infrastructure," Enyart said. "However, Congress has no appetite for BRAC. Congress would have to authorize a BRAC and they aren't going to do it."
"The military would be wise to shed itself of excess infrastructure," Enyart said. "However, Congress is very resistant to the Air Force shedding itself of planes. As a community, we need to start working a plan now and I have been meeting with folks regarding that. We need to present a united effort. Scott is an economic engine for the region, but that won't save Scott. If a BRAC does come about, we have to prove to and show the DoD that Scott is a vital link to our nation's defense and cannot be shut down. I think we can show that."
If government officials determine a BRAC is necessary, Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois is prepared to increase its efforts to unite area businesses, organizations, and leadership in the common goal of keeping Scott. The organization has about 150 members. Those members are senior leaders in business, industry, education, government, and labor.
"The Leadership Council has an ongoing military affairs committee that is very active and works with Scott, so, we stand ready at any point to help Scott grow and keep Scott growing," said Ellen Krohne, executive director of the Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois. "We would do everything we can to partner with Scott to be sure they are healthy and continue to be so with or without a BRAC. If a BRAC is coming, we are ready to ramp up in preparation for it. Our role is to unite. We would first work with county governments and other organizations to have a coordinated effort to help make sure we understand what the criteria of the BRAC are and helping to assure Scott is reflected in the very best light."
The 2005 BRAC round cost more than was saved in the long run, according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office. The office categorized the costs associated with the 2005 BRAC as "excessive."
Potential future BRAC rounds would work to eliminate duplicate infrastructure and missions within the Department of Defense.
"BRAC would have to be legislation that is passed. Would a BRAC vote even make it to the floor? If it did, that process would then probably be authorized and I would say that's where we would have to do a lot of work and try to understand the parameters of the BRAC and duplication," said U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville. "If you look at Scott, other than the C-40 VIP transport unit and the Air National Guard, it's mostly major commands that are not duplicated any where."
In the 2005 BRAC, Scott Air Force Base gained personnel when it gained three Army Surface Deployment and Distribution centers but lost the inpatient mission at the Scott Air Force Base Hospital. A Mobility Air Forces Logistics Support Center was also established at the base.
"In past BRACS the feeling in Congress is that the DoD over-promised and under delivered," Enyart said. "I think the DoD left a very bad taste in Congress' mouth because of the cost of the BRACs. In order for the DoD to get another BRAC, they will have to prove to Congress they will in fact reduce cost."
Enyart added that the Army is in the process of reducing its size. The Army plans to trim its troops to 490,000 personnel and eliminate eight brigades. Communities with a large Army presence, such as Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri or Fort Bragg in North Carolina would feel the impact of such losses.
"The defense cuts have already happened and the upcoming sequestration is going to wreak havoc on the military," Shimkus said. "The military will scramble to try to be in the position to perform a mission with fewer dollars. Could a BRAC happen? Yes. If I read Hagel's comments correctly, that's an option he might look at."
Contact reporter Jennifer A. Schaaf at email@example.com or 618-239-2667.