Any Congressional process to realign or close military bases could be possible in 2021 after today’s uncertain political climate in the nation’s capital has dissapated.
That was the assessment of S.C. Military Base Task Force members who attended the Defense Communities National Summit in Washington, D.C., in June. A new round of base closings under the BRAC — Base Realignment and Closure — program had once been envisioned for as early as 2015.
But the lukewarm appeal that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have to the military, uncertainty about the makeup of Congress after upcoming elections, and a general uneasiness among some members of Congress to make defense cuts all are contributing to a BRAC round being delayed until 2021, members said.
“They are kind of kicking the can down the road,” Charlie Farrell, executive director of the task force, told members at their quarterly executive committee meeting Wednesday.
As for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, he said: “The military is not that excited about either one.”
The military pumps about $20 billion a year into South Carolina’s economy. Most of those dollars flow to the state’s four cities with major military installations — Columbia, Sumter, Charleston and Beaufort — which appoint members to the task force along with Gov. Nikki Haley and the S.C. National Guard.
But after 15 years of war, the military is set to shrink.
After the pullout of the vast majority of combat troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, the military is looking to roll back its budgets significantly.
For instance, the Army reached a peak of about 570,000 in 2010 and could go as low as 420,000 by 2017 if deep budget cuts mandated by the U.S. Budget Control Act of 2011 – called the sequester – are not changed by Congress.
Both the Army and the Air Force have called for a new round of BRAC, shifting the responsibility of possible base closures - and the accompanying political heat — to Congress. In the Midlands, Fort Jackson in Columbia is the nation’s largest basic training facility while Shaw Air Force Base is just outside of Sumter.
The Navy and Marines want no BRAC at all. The Marines have a basic training facility and an air station in Beaufort.
“The Army and Air Force are at about 30 percent excess capacity,” said Jim Wegmann, Beaufort’s representative to the task force. “The Navy and Marines think they are about right.”
But, Wegmann said, there now it seems to be a move to hold a BRAC in 2021, after today’s political uncertainty has dispersed.
“Two years ago there was no stomach for it; now that is waning,” he said. “It’s gone from ‘heck no,’ to ‘let’s talk about the process.’”