BRAC Commission Is Established to Close U.S. Military Bases Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

To manage the spending of the U.S. defense budget more efficiently, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission was established to evaluate the need for large numbers of military facilities and to make recommendations concerning which bases should be closed and which should have their missions altered so that they would remain relevant.

Summary of Event

Military bases in the United States represent more than the role they play in the defense of the country. To the cities and states that host military bases, the facilities mean civilian employment, customers for local business, and general economic health. Because the loss of a military base can spell economic disaster for a state or region, members of the U.S. Congress generally oppose the closing of military bases in their home districts or states. As a result, base closings become more about political battles than about military necessity. Base Realignment and Closure Commission Base Closure and Realignment Act (1988) Military, U.S.;base closures [kw]BRAC Commission Is Established to Close U.S. Military Bases (Oct. 24, 1988) [kw]Commission Is Established to Close U.S. Military Bases, BRAC (Oct. 24, 1988) [kw]U.S. Military Bases, BRAC Commission Is Established to Close (Oct. 24, 1988) [kw]Military Bases, BRAC Commission Is Established to Close U.S. (Oct. 24, 1988) Base Realignment and Closure Commission Base Closure and Realignment Act (1988) Military, U.S.;base closures [g]North America;Oct. 24, 1988: BRAC Commission Is Established to Close U.S. Military Bases[06980] [g]United States;Oct. 24, 1988: BRAC Commission Is Established to Close U.S. Military Bases[06980] [c]Government and politics;Oct. 24, 1988: BRAC Commission Is Established to Close U.S. Military Bases[06980] [c]Military history;Oct. 24, 1988: BRAC Commission Is Established to Close U.S. Military Bases[06980] Carter, Jimmy [p]Carter, Jimmy;military base closures Reagan, Ronald [p]Reagan, Ronald;military base closures Grace, J. Peter Carlucci, Frank C.

Before 1977, the U.S. secretary of defense retained the right to decide the future of military bases, and in the 1960’s more than sixty bases closed without the input of Congress. That changed in 1977, when President Jimmy Carter signed Public Law 95-82, requiring the Department of Defense to give Congress sixty days’ notice of its intent to close a military base and to abide by any congressional action taken to keep the base in operation. Base closures ceased for the next ten years, as members of Congress blocked attempts to close bases to preserve jobs and economic opportunities in their home states.

President Ronald Reagan, however, changed Carter’s policy. Eager to cut government spending without curtailing U.S. military power, Reagan recognized the need to spend the nation’s defense budget more efficiently. Reagan appointed J. Peter Grace to serve as chairman of the President’s Private Sector Survey on Cost Control, better known as the Grace Commission, Grace Commission to study various means of improving budget efficiency. The Grace Commission recommended in 1983 the closure of dozens of unnecessary military bases and the formation of a nonpartisan commission to select the bases for closure. Despite opposition from some members of Congress, the Base Closure and Realignment Act, Public Law 100-526, went into effect on October 24, 1988, establishing a bipartisan and independent body, the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission, to evaluate the missions of all U.S. military bases and to make recommendations to the secretary of defense on which ones to close or “realign” (keep in operation but change their purposes, or missions). The original BRAC Commission had eight members, nominated by the president; later commissions had nine members.

To each list of BRAC recommendations from the commission, the secretary of defense added his own recommendations, and the final list went to Congress for approval. To avoid partisan protection of individual bases, the law required Congress to approve or reject each recommendation list in its entirety. On January 5, 1989, Secretary of Defense Frank C. Carlucci submitted to Congress the first BRAC list, which was approved. This initial list closed eighty-six military facilities, partially closed five, and realigned fifty-four others. Most of the base closures involved facilities that were surrounded by urban areas and were thus limited in how much they could grow or in the types of training that could take place there.

The end of the Cold War accelerated the importance of the BRAC process. The declining U.S. military budget, along with a diminished threat from the Soviet Union, forced the Defense Department to curtail its facilities. President George H. W. Bush Bush, George H. W. [p]Bush, George H. W.;military base closures convened another BRAC Commission in 1991, which closed twenty-six major bases and realigned nineteen others. President Bill Clinton Clinton, Bill [p]Clinton, Bill;military base closures established two BRAC Commissions, one in 1993 and another in 1995, which combined to close fifty-five bases and realign fifty-seven others. These later commissions operated under rules that were slightly different from those followed by the original commission. Public Law 101-510 required the Department of Defense to draw up a list of bases for the BRAC Commission to consider, instead of leaving the entire process up to the commission. The law also required the secretary of defense to create procedures for the disposition of the bases after decisions were made to close them. In particular, Congress was concerned about the costs of cleaning up environmental problems on military lands before the military disposed of the property.

The types of bases that the commission opted to close reflected the new military reality in the post-Cold War world. Many of the U.S. Air Force bases that were closed, including Loring Air Force Base in Maine and Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Michigan, had hosted squadrons of strategic bombers such as the B-52 Stratofortress, aircraft that were being retired because their mission had disappeared. Because the U.S. Navy now contracted for warships from private shipyards, most of the Navy’s own shipyards were closed, such as those in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Charleston, South Carolina. Many of the U.S. Army bases that were closed were simply too small or too close to urban populations to have practical military value and had been used mostly as administrative centers. The best example was Fort Douglas, Utah, which was surrounded by the University of Utah.

Other closures resulted from the consolidation of the tasks of two facilities into one. Such consolidation allowed the BRAC Commission to close or realign many naval air stations, Army depots, and training facilities. Other bases avoided closure when they were realigned into “joint” bases that conducted multiple tasks out of single facilities, often hosting units from various military services.

The end of the Cold War also affected American military bases on foreign soil, as the BRAC process reduced the military presence of the United States around the world by closing bases. By 1997, the four BRAC Commissions had closed 21 percent of the military bases in the continental United States and 58 percent of overseas bases.

Significance

The biggest opponents of the BRAC process were always the civilians who lived near the bases slated for closure. The threat of losing civilians jobs and the money pumped into local economies by large numbers of military personnel frightened many communities as they focused on the possibility of a bleak economic outcome. The actual economic impacts of base closures on local communities were mixed, however. The closure or realignment of many small and remote bases had no significant impacts, because the bases were not important elements in their local economies. The closure of other bases actually boosted the local economies; for instance, several naval shipyards passed into the hands of private enterprise, which expanded their operations and added to local revenues. Many cities welcomed the closure of bases, especially those associated with aircraft, which generated noise and congested air lanes around local airports.

Some communities acquired closed bases and converted the land into industrial parks or sold it to developers, so that they suffered little or no negative economic impact. Although some communities were negatively affected by the closure of bases, others benefited when the military units from the closed bases relocated to nearby bases and boosted their local economies. In communities that relied on military bases as the primary source of employment, however, base closures caused real economic hardship at the local and regional levels.

In 2005, President George W. Bush announced another round of base closings, the first in ten years. The plan called for the closing of thirty-three major bases and significant reductions in facilities allocated to the National Guard. The latter caused some concern in Congress, and the legislators threatened to vote down the secretary of defense’s recommendations. Despite this opposition, Congress approved the 2005 BRAC list, paving the way for future potential BRAC recommendations. Base Realignment and Closure Commission Base Closure and Realignment Act (1988) Military, U.S.;base closures

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Marshall, Michael L. Defense Laboratories and Military Capability: Are We Heading for a BRACdown? Washington, D.C.: National Defense University, 2004. Represents the backlash to the BRAC process, charging that it has cut too much and the wrong things. Argues that the closure of military research facilities places the military at the mercy of civilian defense research, which might harm U.S. military operations in the future.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sorenson, David S. Shutting Down the Cold War: The Politics of Military Base Closure. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998. Written by a faculty member at the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, who had an insider’s look at the BRAC process when Maxwell Air Force Base came up for possible closure. The base did not close, but the experience prompted Sorenson to examine the political process and economic ramifications of BRAC.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wilson, Charles L., and James L. Weingartner. Blame-Proof Policymaking: Congress and Base Closures. Monterey, Calif.: Naval Postgraduate School, 1993. Charges that the BRAC process has been highly politicized despite the commission’s nonpartisan organization. Asserts that Congress has had the capability to exert influence on which bases are selected for closure and which are not, along with the ability to blame the BRAC Commission for Congress members’ failures to protect bases in their home states.

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