WASHINGTON – Members of the Maine and New Hampshire congressional delegations are vowing to resist an Obama administration request for another round of military base closures as a way to trim Pentagon spending.
Although the Pentagon’s request does not specify which bases would be closed, any talk of a new Base Realignment and Closure process is likely to raise concerns about the future of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery.
The Portsmouth facility faced possible closure during the last major BRAC process but was ultimately spared in 2005 after an aggressive push by local officials, shipyard workers and the region’s congressional delegation. The effort preserved more than 4,000 jobs.
A military accounting office in the Aroostook County town of Limestone was also spared that year, but Brunswick Naval Air Station closed during the downsizing.
The base closure recommendation — which is subject to congressional approval — was included in the $526.6 billion budget proposed by the Defense Department on Wednesday. The process would begin in the final quarter of 2015 with closures commencing in 2016.
“This process is an imperfect process, and there are upfront costs for BRAC,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a statement. “This budget adds $2.4 billion over the next five years to pay for those costs. But in the long term, there are significant savings, as we’ve seen from past BRAC decisions.”
Base closures are inevitably a contentious process as local officials and their congressional representatives try to justify removing a targeted facility from the BRAC list. A special BRAC commission reviews the Pentagon’s suggestions, makes subtractions or additions and then passes along a recommendation to Congress and the president.
The commission’s recommendation must be approved or rejected in its entirety — a requirement that’s intended to take political considerations out of the mix.
Although not a guarantee of success, having lawmakers in influential positions can certainly help keep a base open.
In the current Senate, New Hampshire’s two senators — Democrat Jeanne Shaheen and Republican Kelly Ayotte — hold the two top-ranking positions on the Senate Armed Services subcommittee that oversees the BRAC process. Without mentioning the Portsmouth facility, Ayotte and Shaheen made clear they would not go along with the Pentagon’s latest request.
“The last BRAC round did not achieve the intended savings,” according to a statement from Shaheen and Ayotte, who serve as the chairman and ranking Republican, respectively, on the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support. “Now is not the time to spend billions of dollars on another BRAC round, especially as the Department of Defense grounds combat aircraft, cancels ship deployments, and furloughs workers due to sequestration.”
Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, also raised doubts about cost savings, saying “another proposed round of BRAC closures doesn’t make sense for our national defense or the taxpayers.”
Collins cited a 2010 Government Accountability Office report that found the costs of the last closures were 50 percent higher than the Defense Department’s original estimates and will not begin to reap savings until 2018.
Likewise, Maine Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat whose district includes Kittery, questioned whether another BRAC process is warranted.
“We haven’t seen any savings from the last round of BRAC closures so it’s premature to start another round now,” Pingree said in a statement. “And before we even consider closing more bases here in the U.S. we need to take a good, hard look at our overseas facilities.”
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