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Disapproving the Recommendations of the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission

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Location: Washington, DC


DISAPPROVING THE RECOMMENDATIONS OF THE DEFENSE BASE CLOSURE AND REALIGNMENT COMMISSION -- (House of Representatives - October 27, 2005)

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. LaHOOD. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

(Mr. LaHOOD asked and was given permission to revise and extend his remarks.)

Mr. LaHOOD. Mr. Chairman, the reason that I introduced this resolution is because I feel very strongly that we are in a position in the House to send a very strong message of support to those who are doing the hard work in Iraq, those who have done the hard work in Afghanistan, and those men and women who we call our citizen soldiers, and a big debt of thanks for what they have been doing in the work that we have asked them to do.

I have been a very strong supporter of the President's position when we went to Afghanistan because I thought we needed to bring down al Qaeda. And no politician can take credit for what has taken place in Afghanistan. It has been done by the hardworking men and women who brought down al Qaeda and the 25,000 troops that are still there.

And no politician can take credit for what has taken place in Iraq. I supported the resolution to go to Iraq. I have supported President Bush on every request that he has made before this House for the money to support our troops, and now we have more than 135,000 troops and many men and women working in the State Department and the embassy there trying to help stand up a democracy, help stand up a police force, and help bring about democracy in Iraq.

If we go along with the BRAC Commission recommendations, what we say to those hardworking men and women who have done the work that we have asked them to do is that we are thinking about, not thinking about, the BRAC recommendations would close the bases, close some of the guard bases, say to the citizen soldiers who have done the hard work, thanks, but we don't need you any longer.

This is the wrong message to be sending. These hardworking men and women have done the job that we asked them to do, and that is the reason that we have seen such great success in Afghanistan and in Iraq. So I ask Members today to support this resolution and send a message to those who have done the hard work that these BRAC recommendations are not the right approach.

When the establishment of the BRAC came about, it was prior to 9/11. It was prior to going into Afghanistan, prior to going into Iraq, and prior to us asking our men and women, the citizen soldiers and the full-time military, to do the hard work that they are doing. This sends the wrong message. This is not the message that we want to send to those that are there, that the Guard bases and the air bases and the military bases that are being recommended for closure or realignment were not right.

When we are spending the kind of money that we are spending, we are not saving an awful lot through these BRAC recommendations. I would submit to the House that if 9/11 had happened prior to us passing this BRAC, that BRAC would not have passed, we would not have established a commission, because we would need a very strong military and we would need these Guard bases.

I also want to point out to the House that there is a Federal law that has been ignored by BRAC and ignored by the Defense Department. It is a Federal law that says you cannot close air and Guard Reserve bases without the authority of the Governor of the State, and this has been ignored.

It was ignored by BRAC, and it was ignored by the Defense Department. I think it is a law that has standing, and I think it is a law that makes an awful lot of sense. The Governors should have a say in what bases are closed. But it was a law that was ignored. So I say to those in the House that today is not the day to send the kind of message that we will be sending if we do not approve the resolution that was considered by the Armed Services Committee and being considered here today. We need to pass this resolution.

If we pass the resolution, we do send a strong message to our citizen soldiers and to the military that the work that they are doing is important, that the Guard bases that they represent, that the air bases that they represent are important, and that our citizen soldiers have done the good work.

There is going to be another report coming from the Defense Department about realigning and about the kind of defenses that our country wants. We do not know what that report will say, but I think it is another indication that the BRAC is premature. I know what the chairman said about those who served on the BRAC, but I am not sure that we were quite as well served by some of those members as we could have been in some of their deliberations.

These are people that were called upon to do very difficult work. They have completed their work, and now it is up to Congress to speak. The Defense Department has spoken. BRAC has spoken. The President has spoken. Now, Mr. Chairman, it is up to the House to speak today.

I urge the House to adopt this resolution in support of those that have done the hard work, in support of those who are citizen soldiers who come from the communities that we represent and say to them, we thank you for your hard work. We thank you for what you have done. We thank you for bringing down al Qaeda. We thank you for helping stand up a democracy in Iraq, and we are not going to eliminate the bases from which you come or realign them.

* [Begin Insert]

Mr. Chairman, I rise today to offer H.J. Res. 65, a resolution that I introduced that would disapprove the recommendations of the 2005 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission.

As I have stated many times since this BRAC round began, it is absolutely wrong that we are considering closing and realigning bases while we are at war. We in Congress spend quite a bit of time proclaiming that we are doing all we can to care for our troops. Spending billions of dollars closing and realigning bases isn't caring for our troops--it's just plain wrong.

Congress created the BRAC process so that there would be a non-partisan, independent method of reviewing our military's post-Cold War excess infrastructure. Unfortunately, we live in a different world today and we face challenges that we, as a nation, couldn't even imagine in the late 1980s. There is no more ``peacetime dividend'' to be gained from closing bases. The Global War on Terrorism has reached deep into our military structure and showed us that we can no longer ask our military to do more with less.

This BRAC Commission was asked to do a very difficult task in a very uncertain environment. Early next year the Department of Defense will issue its latest Quadrennial Defense Review, a document that will outline the future structure of our military as they continue their fight against terror. We do not know what the QDR will contain, and what sort of infrastructure will be required to support it. We are also waiting to hear the plan for bringing as many as 70,000 troops and their families home from Europe and Asia as the Department reduces its Cold War footprint overseas. We do not know what that plan will contain, either, but those 70,000 people and their dependents will have to live and work somewhere. The BRAC Commission noted in its report to the President that the timing of this BRAC round was not ideal because of all of the uncertainty surrounding these upcoming major events. Even the most well-intentioned decisions, if they are made without taking all of the facts into account, can end up hurting those we say we are trying to help.

The list of recommendations that were released by the Department of Defense on May 13 contained more proposed actions than all previous BRAC rounds combined. In its report to the President, the BRAC Commission was very critical of the Department's methods. The Pentagon lumped together unrelated activities into one recommendation, leaving a mess for the Commission to try to untangle. The DoD proposed the consolidation of many jobs and commands that had similar names, even if they did not have the same missions. There was apparently no interaction between the Pentagon and other federal agencies that share assets and installation space, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs and the United States Coast Guard, agencies that could be now left in serious financial straits if the burden of maintaining these facilities falls completely on them. And, most striking of all, there was very little cooperation and interaction between the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security. How can we feel secure in voting on these recommendations without knowing the full impact they will have on our homeland security? These bases are not simply staging areas before our military goes to fight overseas. Our military is vital to securing our homeland. We cannot make it more difficult for them to achieve that mission.

The one aspect of this year's BRAC round that brought this issue home to many of my colleagues was the inclusion of Air National Guard bases. I am proud to say that I represent 2 flying units of the Illinois Air National Guard in my district, and I have seen first-hand the vital roles they play in our nation's defense. We ask our Guard to make extraordinary sacrifices and become masters of a wide range of issues, from fighting against terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan to rescuing victims and providing relief to those who are impacted by natural disasters here at home. They do so willing and heroically, leaving behind their families and their jobs as soon as they get the call. These Guard units, under the purview of the governors of the states, are now being closed or ``enclaved'' without the consent of the governors and without proper consultation of the State Adjutants General. This is how we support those who serve both their states and the federal government? These men and women are not going to uproot their entire lives to follow their units to other states. We will lose them, their knowledge, and their expertise. This is a price we cannot afford to pay.

Title 10 of the United States Code prohibits the closure or relocation of Army and Air National Guard units without the consent of the governors of the states in which those units are located. A number of governors have gone on record and refused to give their consent for the movement of their National Guard units. Many states have filed lawsuits in federal court demanding that the Pentagon and the BRAC Commission follow federal law. The Speaker, Senator Durbin and I brought this provision to the attention of the Secretary of Defense in a letter dated March 24. To date, the Pentagon still has not been able to answer that letter. On July 14, the BRAC Commission's own Deputy General Counsel issued an opinion that not only are the proposed Air Guard moves in violation of federal law, they may be unconstitutional. The Commission ignored its own lawyer! This BRAC round is going to leave us with flying units that no longer have planes, and for what reason? These Air Guard moves do not save money. They will weaken the Air Guard in many states and make recruiting and retention of these dedicated Airmen next to impossible. Not only is this wrong, it is illegal, a clear violation of Title 10 of the United States Code. Lawsuits are still pending.

Much has been said about the proposed ``savings'' if this round of BRAC is enacted. A figure of $35 billion in savings over 20 years seems to be popular in the media. However, this $35 billion figure includes assumed personnel cost savings; savings that both the BRAC Commission and the GAO have stated should not be included. Once those personnel savings are removed, the total savings falls to approximately $15.1 billion over the next 20 years. We cannot forget that this round of BRAC will cost $21 billion to enact. That kind of math simply does not make sense.

This round of BRAC has strayed far from Congress' original intent. We aren't reducing excess infrastructure to save money. This BRAC is the beginning of implementing major force structure changes without the consultation of Congress. Sweeping changes like this require more than just one up or down vote.

I have heard a number of my colleagues state that they will support this round of BRAC even though they do not agree with it, simply because this is the process that Congress established. This is not something we can close our eyes and blindly support. We are a nation at war, the timing is wrong, the savings are not there, and Guard units are being moved out of their states in violation of federal law. The process did not work this time, and we need to stand up and say ``Stop''.

* [End Insert]

Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. LaHOOD. Mr. Chairman, let me just speak for a minute or two. I thought there were going to be some other Members that wanted to speak in favor of the resolution; but until they arrive, let me just talk for a minute or two about some of the costs.

The BRAC Commission estimated that $35 billion would be saved over a 20-year period, but the $35 billion figure includes assumed cost savings due to military personnel actions. Both the BRAC Commission and the GAO believe the military personnel savings should be excluded from the overall savings figure.

Once those personnel savings are removed, the overall savings fall to approximately $15 billion over 20 years. There is a one-time up-front cost of $21 billion to implement the BRAC round, and the DOD claimed that the savings from military personnel are not savings at all. These costs do not disappear; they simply shift from one base to another, and those folks are still in the military, and we still have to pay for them.

For some Air Force recommendations, the military personnel cost savings represents 90 percent of the total savings. And in the case of the Air National Guard end strength, it remained mostly the same. Obviously, no savings come from simply moving positions around the country.

If we keep the same number of personnel, DOD spending levels will not actually be reduced. The BRAC Commission concludes that DOD savings estimates were vastly overstated and overestimated. And there is also a quote from the commission on page 330 of their report: ``In fact, the commission is concerned that there is a likelihood that the 2005 BRAC round could produce only marginal net savings over the 20-year period.''

Mr. Chairman, I reserve the balance of my time.

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