Thursday, January 26, 2012

Deja BRAC Vu

I am having a bit of deja vu today.  One of the proposals to cut the US defense budget is to close some bases in the U.S.  BRAC refers to the Base Closure and Reassignment Commission.  This was a process designed to reduce the interference of Congresspeople and Senators, since the closing of a base seems catastrophic to the community nearby that has grown dependent on the base for jobs.

It is deja vu, as I spent the summer between college and grad school interning for Business Executives for National Security's NY branch.*  This organization was aiming to make the defense department more efficient (ok, so it looks like they failed), and one of the focal points was facilitating the closure of obsolete bases.  It had been years and years since a base was closed because politicians in Congress had learned many tactics to prevent bases from being closed.  A wonderful irony was that in the 1990's the Secretary of Defense, William Cohen, was a guy who had made his career keeping open an obsolete air force base in Maine.
*  This is where I first learned of (and maybe met) Larry Korb who had been a top-ranked official in DoD and was then (and now) writing about defense waste.  Catch his twitter at @larrykorb.

Anyhow, BENS and others organized to lobby to develop a process where a non-partisan commission would evaluate which bases ought to be closed based on efficiency and also economic considerations.  The list of recommended closures would go to the SecDef who could only say yay or nay to the entire list, and then the President would have the same decision.  The list would then go to Congress where each house could not amend--just yay or nay.  This would provide those politicians losing a base in their district with some cover.  The first rounds were relatively easy, if I remember correctly, because some had been designed to stop the Indians from attacking Chicago, the British from attacking Maryland (or something like that), and so on.

My job at the time was to research and see what happens when bases were closed.  We found enough info to argue that communities that resisted lost big time when the base closed, but communities that adapted, planned and cooperated usually were better off.

Anyhow, it looks like with a somewhat smaller army, we will see another round of closures.  The irony here is that Congress folks who are forcing these cuts with the refusal to consider increased taxes are going to fight these cuts that their positions have essentially required.  Good times.

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