The head of the Senate Armed Services Committee said he will consider starting another military base closing round in the near future, calling Congress’ handling of the issue “cowardice” and a threat to military readiness.
"We need to talk about it, I think it has to be considered as all things should be on the table,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said during a Tuesday committee hearing on the defense budget.
He said that committee ranking member Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., is “seriously considering the issue of BRAC, and obviously we want to talk to now-Secretary of Defense (James Mattis) about it.”
Even discussing a possible base closing round would be a significant shift on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers have been fiercely against the idea of shuttering bases in their districts.
Pentagon officials have repeatedly asked for a reexamination of the military’s domestic footprint with an eye toward closing underused or outdated facilities. They estimate the five previous base closing rounds since 1990 have saved taxpayers at least $12 billion annually.
But lawmakers have responded by not only rejecting the idea but prohibiting defense officials from planning future base closing plans, largely in response to the controversial 2005 reorganization which many saw as overly complicated and minimally fiscally justified.
McCain suggested that future rounds may be handled differently, instead of relying on an independent commission as has been practice in the past.
“We can't make the decisions ourselves, so we leave it up [to] a commission, and frankly the last commission made some very bad decisions,” he said.
“Like sequestration, it’s a cowardly act, because it shows we can’t make the decision ourselves.”
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, in the past has said he would be open to allowing the Defense Department to update research on how many DoD facilities may be underused or obsolete.
Pentagon officials have said in recent years they are paying to maintain 22 percent more infrastructure than they need, but lawmakers have argued those figures are based on outdated studies.
As it has been in recent years, the base closing issue is expected to be a major talking point in the fiscal 2018 defense budget debate later this spring.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.