Pentagon Eyes California Military Bases for Closure

110315-N-HW977-066 NORCO, Calif. (March 15, 2011) Capt. Jay Kadowaki, second from left, commanding officer of Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC), Corona Division, and Cmdr. Breck DeGroff, chief of staff of NSWC, salute as Chief Master-at-Arms George LeTourneau, second from right, and Master-at-Arms 3rd Class Eugene Esparza raise the American flag during a morning colors ceremony to honor U.S. Army Cpl. Frank W. Buckles. Buckles, the last surviving American World War I veteran, died Feb. 27, 2011 and will be interred today at Arlington National Cemetery. (U.S. Navy photo by Greg Vojtko/Released)

Squeezed by the 2011 budget sequester, the Pentagon is eager to launch the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process for the sixth time to close down thousands of facilities it says it no longer needs — freeing up billions of dollars in funding.

This could be bad news for California, which has 322 military installations pumping billions of dollars into the local economy around the Golden State. Eighteen of the bases are classified as large, triple the number of any other state.

While the Defense Department’s call for BRAC cuts have been routinely rebuffed by Congress since the 2005 round, this time it’s getting a friendlier reception. Rep. Adam Smith, D-Washington, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said last week that he supported another round of BRAC cuts in 2018 and had introduced the Military Infrastructure Consolidation and Efficiency Act toward that end.

The ranking Republican and Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee — John McCain of Arizona and Jack Reed of Rhode Island, respectively — appeared ready to back a new BRAC if the idea was supported by new Defense Secretary James Mattis, who wants to target Pentagon waste but has not weighed in to date specifically about BRAC.

According to a Pentagon report to Congress last April, military leaders believe they could close 22 percent of all bases with no loss in defense capabilities.

Pentagon officials want to make sure the commission that designates bases for closure after receiving a list of recommendations from the various armed services is truly independent. The 2005 BRAC was considered a success by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other California officials because the Golden State escaped any major hits. But it was seen as a disaster by the Defense Department because political interference sharply reduced savings from closings.

Pentagon has targeted Norco base before

If the BRAC process is revived, the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Norco, shown above in a 2011 U.S. Navy photo, could be the California facility that is most at risk. The center, which employs more than 1,200 people and generates $150 million annually for the local economy, has been targeted for closure repeatedly by the Pentagon, most recently in 2005, only to win reprieves from the BRAC commission.

The possibility of a new BRAC round was seen as big news in San Diego County, home to the largest concentration of military personnel in the United States.

But while the county could have to deal with losing some facilities, it also has a chance to benefit from BRAC. The Washington Times reported in 2012 that Navy officials were interested in consolidating operations by moving warships from Washington state to San Diego. The need for such consolidations remains huge, according to former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

The base-closing process was launched by the Reagan administration and Congress in the late 1980s as the Cold War wound down and the threat posed by the Soviet Union waned.

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Military Reform Aims To Slash Pay For New Troops

In a speech on Wednesday off the coast of San Diego, outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned troops that the U.S. can’t afford its military personnel anymore.

Troops are already bracing for the results of a report on Feb. 1, which will most likely not be friendly to military pay. The report is by the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, which was originally created in 2013 by Congress for the purpose of researching feasible reforms for military pay and retirement benefits.

The White House is eagerly awaiting the results, as the Obama administration has set scaling back military budgets as a priority. Healthcare costs alone comprise 20 percent of the Pentagon’s annual budget, according to Congressional Budget Office calculations.

“I think this will be as big an issue … over the next year as there is, and it should be, because when you are talking about that entire compensation package for all of you and your families, I mean that is key,” Hagel stated, according to Military Times.

“We cannot sustain the current trajectory that we are on with the current system we have…We’ve got to address this. And we have to be honest about it. And we have to deal with it,” Hagel added.

Sen. John McCain, now chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, concurred with the need for sweeping reforms, particularly in the military health care system. Both Hagel and McCain reaffirmed that the inevitable changes coming to military pay and benefit policies will only apply to new recruits, and existing troops will be grandfathered out of the system currently in place.

“We know that it has to be reformed, everybody knows it has to be reformed,” McCain told The Hill. “There’s nobody I know that says you can continue as we’ve been going.” One of the Pentagon’s concerns revolves around personnel costs eroding investment in much-needed defense research and the development of high-tech weapons.

Some groups, however, have chastised the DOD for neglecting the needs of military personnel, and this increased level of tension between DOD officials and non-profit military groups will continue to build when the commission forwards its findings to Congress and the White House.

“Even though sequestration has placed DoD in a difficult position, we cannot continue to try and balance the budget on the backs of the very people who bear the burden of security for this nation and who have given so much over the last 13 years,” said Vice Admiral and President of the Military Officers Association of America Norb Ryan in December.

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This article was originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation