Another round of military base closings could be in the offing.
The Defense Department plans to ask for permission for two more rounds of base closings, according to Politico. If it happens, it would be yet another challenge to the Rock Island Arsenal, which lost a net 1,000 jobs from the last round in 2005 and is preparing to deal with automatic budget cuts that went into effect Friday.
The potential for another BRAC, as the base closing rounds are known, isn’t terribly surprising. The Pentagon asked for two new rounds last year but was quickly rebuffed by lawmakers who were going into an election year.
Congress also is skeptical of a new round of BRAC, given audits that predict the savings will be much smaller than originally anticipated.
This year’s request, however, would come as military leaders are complaining they’re being asked to downsize their budgets without being given the ability to make choices where to cut. Sequestration would slice military budgets by more than $500 billion over 10 years. Calls for discretion within the budget might strengthen the military’s hand with Congress in a new BRAC request.
U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee, said Friday there’s “very little” discussion about the possibility of a new BRAC round. He opposed the Pentagon’s proposal last year.
“I don’t know why I’d change my mind,” he said Friday.
Christina Mulka, a spokeswoman for Sen. Dick Durbin, who chairs a key subcommittee overseeing Pentagon spending, said the office had no comment on the potential for a BRAC request. But she noted Durbin opposed the 2005 round and “will be working to maintain the important leadership role that Illinois has long played in our nation’s defense.”
Durbin, along with other lawmakers representing the area, met with a delegation led by the Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce this week on its annual lobbying trip to Washington, D.C., where the Arsenal is always a key topic.
Politico, citing unidentified sources, said the Defense Department is going to ask for new base closing rounds in the 2015 fiscal year, which begins a year from this October, and again in fiscal 2017.
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In answer to questions before his nomination hearings, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also said he would consider base closings, and he sought to distinguish the 2005 round from earlier efforts in the 1990s, which he said resulted in real savings.
The Arsenal already is in the midst of transition because of the end of the war in Iraq and the wind-down in Afghanistan. Much of the war-related work at the Joint Manufacturing and Technology Center has ended, and the JMTC is seeking new work.
Jim Morgan, a former civilian executive on the island who was a leader in the area’s BRAC defense in 2005, said there have been legislative changes that better position the JMTC for a new BRAC.
“I think the Department of the Army has seen the benefit of the organic industrial base,” he said.
At the same time, once a base has been on a BRAC list, there’s always a threat, he said. During the 2005 round, the Arsenal had been on a list for closure, but it was removed shortly before the Pentagon made its recommendations.