Defense Secretary Panetta is proposing two new rounds of domestic base closure and realignment. As the member of Congress representing Ft. Ord (CA) when it was first proposed for closure, Panetta is fully aware of the challenges that face communities where major military installations are closed or even downsized. Therefore, as long as he is at the helm, I'm expecting the Defense Department to be sensitive to the impacts that new BRACs will have on host communities.
Predictably, members of Congress and Senators are today rallying around their local bases, opposing closure and in most cases questioning the need for a new BRAC Commission. I expect, however, that Congress will authorize a new BRAC process, because in its absence the Defense Department has the authority to shut bases without Congressional approval.
My most important recommendation at this point is that the armed services and the new BRAC commission consider external costs when putting forward realignment proposals. This is a lesson of the 2005 round. As a result of 2005 closures, large numbers of Defense civilian and uniformed personnel were (or in some cases, are still being) relocated to installations and offices in Maryland and northern Virginia, creating traffic and transit challenges that will require significant infrastructure investments to avoid widespread gridlock. For example, Defense Department offices adjacent to Metro stops in the DC area were moved to locations with poor transit connections. Since in most cases the Defense Department is not responsible for those investments, they were not fully considered in the realignment plans. Yet taxpayers remain on the hook.
A repeat of this misjudgment could easily be avoided by requiring realignments to evaluate external costs.
Executive Director, Center for Public Environmental Oversight
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