WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is taking a break from BRAC.
With its 2019 budget request, the Defense Department has skipped its annual request for a round of the base realignment and closure process. Whether BRACs save money is debatable, but their political unpopularity is certain.
The move comes as the president and Congress eased budget caps for national security by $165 billion through 2019. Hewing to Congress’ new preset top line, Monday’s request includes a record $617 billion in base budget funding and $69 billion in cap-exempt wartime funds.
“You get the gold star, we did not ask for that in this budget,” Pentagon Comptroller David Norquist said at a budget rollout on Monday. “We have asked for it a number of times in the past, without much success.”
The Pentagon is instead looking to both find common ground with Congress on reforms and further review excess facilities “to make better decisions about real property,” Norquist told reporters.
BRAC has been politically unpopular since the 2005 round cost significantly more money that initially expected. Lawmakers have expressed concern that their communities would be harmed if military bases were removed.
In October, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Congress a new BRAC could close about 22 percent excess capacity for an annual savings of $2 billion or more by 2027. But members of Congress have argued against that move, citing high upfront costs.
The Senate Armed Services Committee’s No. 2 Republican and chairman of its Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee, Sen. Jim Inhofe, of Oklahoma, told reporters last month a costly BRAC wouldn’t be prudent when the military is in “rebuilding mode.”
The Defense Department’s assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations and environment, Lucian Niemeyer, said in an interview in November that the Pentagon would change the pitch to lawmakers: Instead of cost savings, it would emphasize stationing forces to maximize lethality.
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.