By David Levinsky
The Pentagon won't be able to close or modify the makeup of military installations through informal means under language included in a House spending bill for military construction and veterans affairs programs.
The bill, HR 5854, appropriates $71.7 billion for military construction projects and veterans programs, including $20 million for veteran suicide prevention outreach that was secured by New Jersey Reps. Jon Runyan, R-3rd of Mount Laurel, and Rush Holt, D-12th of Hopewell.
The bill was approved overwhelmingly Thursday night by a vote of 407-12. All 13 members of New Jersey's congressional delegation voted for the measure.
Runyan was responsible for an amendment prohibiting the Pentagon from using money to close or modify a military installation outside the normal Base Realignment and Closure Commission process.
Under a Base Realignment and Closure round, also known as BRAC, a commission is formed to examine recommendations made by the Pentagon to close, shift or cut missions to reduce costs. The commission then makes its own recommendations to Congress for an up or down vote.
The process is intended to save money and improve efficiencies, but it puts scores of jobs and programs on military bases at risk.
The Pentagon has requested another round of base closings in 2013 as part of
President Barack Obama's proposed federal budget, but House lawmakers have resisted by passing legislation that staves off funding for a BRAC in 2013.
Runyan said the language included in the military construction and veterans bill would prevent any attempts to conduct "back-door base closures" that could affect Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.
The joint base is one of the largest employers in the region.
"It is imperative that we remain vigilant and stay one step ahead of any efforts to impose (any) back-door base closures through informal channels," said Runyan, who is part of a group of Burlington County officials and former lawmakers that is organizing a defense of the base from any future closures.
"I will continue to work with our community in South Jersey and my colleagues in Congress to defend (the joint base)," he said.
The $20 million for veterans suicide prevention outreach is the same amount secured by Runyan and Holt in last year's military construction and veterans affairs appropriations act.
In a House floor statement before Thursday's vote, Holt called on the White House to create a dedicated funding stream for suicide prevention programs specific for veterans.
"These are silent casualties of war, and if we're going to stop the epidemic, we must recognize it," he said.
The spending bill is not without controversy, as it calls for an extension of a pay freeze on federal employees for another year rather than a 0.5 percent raise proposed by Obama.
The White House is threatening to veto the measure because of the pay freeze and other cuts.