June 11, 2012:
The U.S. Congress is again battling the military over base closings. This time politicians are upset that the air force is using provisions in the BRAC (Base Closure and Realignment Commission) law that allows the Department of Defense to unilaterally close unneeded bases. This is a politically sensitive act. Some local politician will always raise a stink and the local congressman and senator will feel compelled to "do something" in Washington to save the base. BRAC was enacted in 1989, to set up an impartial commission that would select the bases to be closed (from among all those the Department of Defense no longer needed) and then send the list to the president for approval and then to Congress, which has 45 days to muster a majority to disapprove (which rarely happens because bases selected for closure pay attention to how many defenders each one has in Congress). But BRAC also contained some provisions for closing bases quietly and without fuss. This irritated many in Congress, and now laws are being passed to eliminate these "stealth" closings. Interfering with these base closings wastes money but in times of high unemployment, any kind of government waste is more popular.
Meanwhile, experience has shown that closing military bases usually turns into a financial bonanza for the military, as well as the areas where the bases are located. Many bases have, over the years, found themselves getting surrounded by growing suburbs, or even urban growth. Although it is widely known that the bases closed in the last 25 years have actually helped the local communities (on average), most politicians instinctively try to stop the process.
Closed bases have usually attracted commercial firms that move in and provide more, and higher paying, jobs. The former base property now pays local taxes, which reduces the tax load for everyone else in the area. There are still over 500 bases out there, although about 60 percent of them are quite small. But most are now sitting on very valuable land. In the past, the Department of Defense would simply give the land to local communities. But now the land is being sold, often for over a billion dollars for some bases, providing the military with more money for its shrinking budget. The military has long had income like this, often from the sale of surplus equipment. But with over a hundred bases liable for closure, the Department of Defense is looking at several billion dollars worth of additional cash.