For many towns and communities near U.S. military bases, it arrived like the dreaded Ghost of Christmases Yet-to-Come.
Last week, Defense Department officials published a short list of criteria they intend to use over the next 17 months to decide what bases to recommend for closure, cutbacks or expansion.
So begins the 2005 BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) process.
The selection criteria are the same as in past BRAC rounds conducted in the early 1990s. The criteria define military value in four ways:
> What the base provides toward current and future mission capabilities and operational readiness. That means from a “total force” versus single service perspective, and “impact on joint war-fighting, training and readiness.”
> Availability and condition of land, facilities and associated airspace including how suitable training areas for maneuvering by ground, naval or air forces with a plus for diverse climates and terrains and also use as staging areas for homeland security missions.
> Ability to accommodate contingency operations, mobilizations and “future total force requirements at both existing and potential receiving locations to support operations and training.”
> Cost of base operations including manpower “implications.”
The selection criteria also include four “considerations” beyond military value. Those are:
> Potential costs and savings from closing or realigning the base including the number of years before savings exceed the cost of closing the facility.
> Economic impact on nearby communities.
> Ability of existing, versus potential receiving communities, to support forces, missions and personnel.
> Environmental impact of closing the base including potential for environmental restoration and waste management.
“The eight criteria proposed for this round,” said the DoD notice, “were based on the accepted, tested and proven criteria used in past BRAC rounds.” Still, these are “draft” selection markers. Interested parties have until Jan. 28 to comment and try to influence final criteria which will be published by Feb. 14. Congress will have until March 15 to disapprove of the criteria. Otherwise, they are set for use in BRAC 2005.
Congress agreed to another BRAC round with legislation enacted in 2002. It directs that in March 2005, the president, in consultation with congressional leaders, will appoint a nine-member base closing commission. By May 16, 2005, after a year of applying the criteria, the secretary of defense is to provide the commission with a list of bases to close or realign.
As the commission reviews the list, seven of nine commissioners must agree for any facility to be added. Only five commissioners must agree to knock a base off the list.
The president either will approve the list and send it to Congress or reject it and give it back to the commission. Neither the president nor Congress has authority to amend the list. If the president approves it, the list will become law in 45 days unless Congress votes to reject it.
Tom Philpott can be contacted at Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, Va. 20120-1111, or by e-mail at: