In my last column for the Winnipeg Sun, I discussed the Manitoba government’s byzantine method of funding municipal infrastructure and recommended transferring an annual amount to each municipality, letting them decide how to spend it. This would avoid politicization and ensure decisions are made by people who know the area best. I wonder if such a method might help the U.S. military. Yet again, we’re seeing Congress isn’t as knowledgeable about readiness as they think.
Army Secretary John McHugh – who, I should note, is also a career politician with no military experience, although he is far from the first Army Secretary with this type of résumé – is tired of Congress forcing the Pentagon to spend money maintaining “unusable” bases across the U.S. He is supportive of an Obama administration plan to have a round of base realignment and closure (BRAC) talks in 2015; the last time this group evaluated the military’s base needs was 2005. McHugh says the money currently being spent on outdated bases could have much better use.
You should be able to figure out why this move would be hugely problematic from a political and economic standpoint. Domestic bases often provide small towns with a majority of their income. Efforts to shut them down have always been met with fierce resistance, especially by members of Congress with bases in their districts. It’s the same mentality that, last year, had the government funding upgrades for tanks that the Pentagon didn’t need.
That’s not to say the BRAC process is ideal. The 2005 round went $14 billion over budget, although you would have to look at long-term savings and strategic benefits to get a clear picture of the effects of that particular overspending. It does give congressional opponents ammunition, and McHugh will need to answer to that if he wants a strong case for a 2015 BRAC round.
They’ll also need to consider forms of financial assistance to towns in line to take hits from base closures. These towns should have been taking steps long, long ago to diversify their economies and reduce their dependence on the federal government. But some direct assistance would help to grease the wheels. Also, I can’t disagree with the suggestion that foreign bases be examined first; a two-tiered approach would also make BRAC an easier sell.
Once McHugh has conceded to those, he can stop conceding. The military shouldn’t be forced to operate on decade-old information, as McHugh pointed out, nor should they be forced to pay for anything that doesn’t strengthen the military. It’s not their job to create economic growth. It’s the job of Congress to spend federal resources in a way that helps create conditions for growth, and not wasting them is part of that.