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BILL CRAWFORD — Sequester fight may lead to next BRAC round

BILL CRAWFORD

BILL CRAWFORD

The sequester – you do remember the controversial budget sequester – has Republican deficit hawks and military hawks squabbling. If the deficit hawks win, military spending will be slashed, impacting military bases and industries throughout the nation. If military hawks win, deficit spending will grow, undermining GOP promises to balance the budget.

 
The likely outcome of this tussle is a compromise. Which will still mean more belt tightening for the military, just not as tight as the sequester required. Which will still mean negative impacts for military bases and industries.
 
The two big expenses in the Department of Defense budget are personnel and weapons systems. The DoD has made recommendations to Congress to cut both. For example, one proposal is to reduce military retirement costs. However, the DoD’s “We have to modernize and economize the system” argument tends to get crushed by the “Balancing the budget on the backs of the men and women who already sacrifice so much defending this country is shameful” argument. Likewise, DoD’s efforts to kill non-priority weapons systems get crushed by industry lobbyists and state politicians who want to keep factories producing those weapons operating at full capacity.
 
The challenges to cutting military spending are not new. Budget cutting efforts in the early 1990s caused Congress so many headaches it created the independent Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (now known as BRAC). The commission was charged with making the hard cuts Congress couldn’t make for itself. The commission’s recommendations had to be voted up or down without changes.  Recommendations from BRAC rounds in 1991, 1993, 1995, and 2005 were all voted up.
 
Insiders expect this Congress will resort to the BRAC process within two years to make cuts to military spending.
 
No doubt concerns about a future BRAC were part of the reason Columbus Air Force Base responded publicly last week to a July 2014 article in the Air Force Times. The article rated 68 active duty Air Force bases using 12 criteria: cost of living, housing, schools, commissaries, crime, health care, transportation, exchanges, pollution, climate, unemployment and sales tax rates.
 
The article ranked CAFB next to last among the 68 bases, tied with McConnell AFB in Kansas. Comments by one airman were very negative.
 
According to the Columbus Dispatch, Col. John Nichols, Commander of the 14th Flying Training Wing at CAFB, told members of the Columbus Exchange Club that nine of the criteria were unrelated to the base itself. Of the three metrics that were base-specific (commissary size, base exchange size, and size of on-base health care facilities), he said that the base was on target for its size and capacity.  
 
However, articles like the Air Force Times piece tend to show up in BRAC presentations. And, quality of life for soldiers is a factor in BRAC ratings.
 
Mississippi communities with bases need to act now to head off such negative issues… just in case.
 
» Bill Crawford is a syndicated columnist from Meridian (crawfolk@gmail.com)

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