WASHINGTON — Defense Department leaders will seek a new military base closing round in fiscal 2021 under the budget proposal for next year released by the White House on Tuesday.
The recommendation is sure to spark a contentious debate on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers have been reluctant to even discuss the idea of shuttering military facilities across the country.
But military leaders have pushed for another base realignment and closure (BRAC) process since 2013, arguing that their current domestic footprint is too large given reductions in force size and equipment modernization in recent years.
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"(The Defense Department) estimates that it has approximately 20 percent excess capacity spread across the military departments and projects it could save $2 billion or more annually by 2027," the budget documents state.
"By executing BRAC in 2021, DOD will have the opportunity to reduce unnecessary infrastructure and align its facilities with the force structure determined by the National Defense Strategy."
The proposal does not immediately impact the $603 billion in defense funding requested by President Trump for fiscal 2018, which begins Oct. 1. But administration officials argue the move is needed to create long-term savings for the military and help balance the federal budget.
Trump’s predecessor, President Barack Obama, made similar arguments in recent years, but was repeatedly rebuffed by Republicans and Democrats in Congress.
That stems largely from controversies surrounding the 2005 BRAC round, which produced disputed savings totals while forcing hundreds of reorganizational moves that lawmakers complained hurt military communities and local businesses.
But Pentagon officials have estimated the five previous base closing rounds since 1990 combined have saved taxpayers at least $12 billion annually.
Earlier this year, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said lawmakers must begin debating another base closing process, calling Congress’ handling of the issue in recent years "cowardice."
House lawmakers have called for updates to the military’s excess infrastructure estimates, calling the 20 percent figure outdated and possibly out-of-touch with current mission demands.
Copies of the budget began circulating on Capitol Hill Tuesday morning, ahead of the official White House release and Pentagon briefings on the spending plans.
Trump’s budget proposal faces a long legislative road before becoming law, with numerous controversial program extensions and cuts likely to face revisions from both congressional chambers.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.