Proposal for New Round of Base Closings Worries Maine, NH Delegations

May 12, 2014

The House Armed Services Committee is considering a proposal to hold another round of base closings under the so-called BRAC process: That's the use of a Base Realignment and Closure Commission to recommend changes in current bases and the closure of others. Members of Maine's congressional delegation are no fans of the process, which previously included the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard on the hit list. And they're recommending that bases overseas be considered first.

  It started with a provision in President Obama's budget for next year: He suggested another base closing commission to redirect funding from bases no longer needed to help pay for the escalating costs of the nation's military.

It's a process designed to get around the strong tendency of senators and representatives to vote against any proposal to cut a local base. The commission develops a list of recommendations, and Congress must consider the entire package on an up-or-down vote with no amendments. 

First District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree says, in recent years, only the BRAC process has led to base closings and mergers, with some savings.

"No member of Congress wants to close a base in their district. And it's tough," Pingree says. "I mean, they are usually very important jobs to your community, a big part of your infrastructure."

There are several ideas being discussed in the House Armed Services Committee on how to structure the process. Second District Congressman Mike Michaud agrees that military bases will likely only be closed or modified under a BRAC-like process.

"I think it is, but the big concern I have, and some of my colleagues have, is some of those decisions are made by the brass of the Department of Defense, and they might not be the best decisions," Michaud says.

Sen. Angus King was governor when the last BRAC round was held, and it led to the closing of the Naval Air Station in Brunswick. He says that was a bad decision that cost more than it saved. "My starting point is, OK, give me a hypothetical BRAC round and show me what it will save," he says, "and then let's see."

King says there is little support for another BRAC round this year because it is an election year and notes the proposals are in the budget bill for next year as well as in the defense authorization bill, also for next year.

"I am not a big BRAC fan. I would rather see some kind of more considered way to go about it," King says. "I think BRAC is like Russian roulette."

Pingree agrees, and says Maine's congressional delegation - and the members of Congress from neighboring New Hampshire - are worried the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery will be a target if another round of BRAC is approved. 

In round one, Maine lost Loring Air Force Base in Aroostook County. The closing of the Naval Air Station in Brunswick was in the second round.

"Obviously the one we worry about the most is the Kittery - some people call Portsmouth - Naval Shipyard," Pingree says. "Luckily so far - that's one of those places, as you know, that people worry could be closed - but the Pentagon continues to invest there."

Sen. Susan Collins says she does not support the BRAC process as proposed, but suggests the place to start looking for places to save are in closing or modifying overseas bases first.

"You can count me down as a 'no,'" she says. "Doesn't mean that there aren't bases that perhaps we should look at. Let's start by looking at our military infrastructure overseas and evaluating it."

Congressman Michaud agrees the best approach would be to look at overseas facilities first.

"If they want to have a BRAC process that focuses on closing military bases overseas, and bring that process forward just for the overseas bases, I think that's a good first step," Michaud says, "because, quite frankly, we have over 666 bases overseas, the last time I counted, not counting Iraq and Afghanistan."

Any new round of base modification or elimination could be authorized in the annual defense authorization bill or as part of the overall budget bill for defense.

While the president and the Pentagon are pushing for some sort of process to eliminate unneeded facilities, Maine?s delegation says it's unlikely that will happen this year with the entire House up for election and about a third of the Senate.