The Pentagon, Not Politicians, Should Decide Base Closures

The national debt as of this post is $17.9 trillion and still climbing. Add the zeros needed to write out that entire number and if doesn’t make you sick, it should. On the other hand, some of this nation’s biggest deficit hawks and defense hawks are handcuffing the Pentagon as it makes recommendations to at least make a dent in defense spending. That includes Mississippi’s two Republican senators and the three conservative Republicans who are members of the U.S. House from our state.

The Department of Defense estimated last year that 20 percent of our existing military bases can be closed without harming national defense. When Congress refuses to schedule another round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), it is wasting billions of taxpayer dollars and contributing to the rising national debt. In a column last January in The Wall Street Journal, Todd Harrison and Mark Gunzinger of the Center For Strategic and Budgetary Assessments wrote the following: “While no private company would tolerate such waste, key members of Congress have blocked efforts to close bases because this wasteful spending supports jobs in their districts.” In May the Senate Armed Services Committee stripped the defense bill of another BRAC round to consider base closures. Despite calls from the Pentagon for more BRAC rounds in 2015 and every eight years after that, in 2012 the House Armed Services Committee, by a 44-18 vote, rejected the Pentagon request. The defense bill for Fiscal Year 2014 prohibits any future BRAC rounds.

For 19 years I worked in Washington, D.C. on either Capitol Hill or in the private sector. During that time there were four BRAC rounds. When the late and beloved G.V. “Sonny” Montgomery served in the U. S. House, no one had a greater impact on protecting military installations in Mississippi. Montgomery was always on the front row of any BRAC or BRAC related hearing. Of course, he was especially interested in Columbus Air Force Base and Meridian Naval Air Station, both of which were in his district.

The resistance to saving taxpayer dollars continues today, even when it is on a much smaller scale. The Department of Defense proposed to dissolve the National Guard’s 155th Heavy Brigade Combat Team that is headquartered in Tupelo. Of course, what the Pentagon’s military leaders thought was a sound decision was soon pounced upon by U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker. Wicker spoke out in very strong opposition to the move that would have also taken away Apache attack helicopters from the facility in Tupelo. Fiscal conservatism comes to an end when it is in a senator’s or congressman’s own state or district.

Mississippi is a very friendly state for our military and is very supportive of our military bases. That is as it should be, and it is a matter of pride. Yet the State of Mississippi and the communities where bases are located have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on lobbyists to protect those facilities from closing. The installations are also economically very important to the entire state. However, parochial political interests should not dictate the decisions of our top military leaders. Whether bases remain open or closed should be based solely on whether they are vital to the security and defense of this nation — nothing else.

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