September 15, 2017

CNAS Press Note: A New Push for Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC)

With Chairman John McCain and Ranking Member Jack Reed of the Senate Armed Services Committee offering an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) authorizing a Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC)-like process for FY2019, CNAS Defense Strategies and Assessments Program Fellow Susanna Blume has written a new press note, “A New Push for Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC).” The press note lays out how the current proposal differs from previous BRAC rounds and the costs and benefits of moving forward with the process.

Please find the full press note below:

The Department of Defense has requested a Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round each year for the past six years. Congress has now taken up the request in earnest. Senators McCain and Reed have proposed an amendment to the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) authorizing a BRAC-like process for fiscal year 2019.

Serious consideration of a new BRAC round is long overdue. The Department of Defense estimates that approximately 20 percent of its infrastructure is excess to requirements. This figure is a very rough estimate, as Congress currently prohibits the department from conducting detailed analysis in support of a BRAC round. However, the department also estimates that, conservatively, a new BRAC round would yield at least $2 billion in savings annually once implemented.

The McCain-Reed amendment currently under consideration is different from previous BRAC rounds in a few critical ways. Fundamentally, the amendment is more a reporting requirement to the Department of Defense that Congress must then decide to take up or not, rather than a full BRAC round.

  • Rather than establish an independent commission, the amendment directs the Department of Defense to develop the complete recommendation for base closures and realignments, and directs the Government Accountability Office to review the department’s proposal.
  • The current proposal limits up-front costs of realignment and closure to $5 billion. Additionally, the secretary of defense must certify that the recommendations in total begin to yield net savings to the department within seven years of implementation, and that no recommendation take more than ten years to yield net savings. These controls will prevent what many viewed as a significant failing of the 2005 BRAC round, which had significant up-front costs and thus will take decades to yield net savings.
  • Whereas previous BRAC recommendations became law unless Congress acted to disapprove them, under the current proposal Congress must affirmatively vote to adopt the recommendation. With nothing forcing Congress to act, failure of this process is more likely.
  • The McCain-Reed amendment also dictates assumptions about future force structure. These assumptions are very generous, guarding against the risk of shedding infrastructure that the department may require in the future if the force grows.

In the fiscal year 2018 President’s Budget, the Trump administration requested a BRAC round for fiscal year 2021. The schedule in the McCain-Reed amendment is much more ambitious. It requires the department to submit a complete realignment and closure plan with the fiscal year 2019 budget in February of 2018. GAO must review, Congress must vote, and the president must approve the final recommendations no later than December 2019. As with previous BRAC rounds, failing to meet any of the deadlines in the proposal will terminate the process.

Base realignments and closures are difficult, both politically and analytically. Nonetheless, as Secretary Mattis has said, “Of all the efficiency measures the Department has undertaken over the years, BRAC is one of the most successful and significant.” In the current fiscally constrained environment, neither the department nor Congress can afford to leave these savings on the table.

Blume is available for interviews. To arrange one, please contact Neal Urwitz at 202-457-9409 or