Looking Out for Nebraska’s Military Bases

 Senator Ben Nelson

Efforts to cut federal spending are underway in Washington. My hope is they will yield results because the deficit is entirely too large and spending has been out of control for too long. Like anything, the cuts must be done wisely and fairly.

Take defense.  At the end of January, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta requested a new base realignment and closure commission (BRAC) as a part of the fiscal year 2013 defense budget.

The purpose of this commission, like those in the past, is to close or consolidate military bases in the United States that are no longer necessary. It requires legislation from Congress to create a bipartisan commission, which then studies the problem and makes recommendations to the president and the defense secretary, who can forward them on to Congress.

Congress must approve or disapprove the commission’s recommendations in their entirety without changes.

Assess Overseas Bases First

At the mention of a Base Realignment and Closure Commission there is concern. Military service members, their families and the bases where they live and work are integral parts of communities. Any action to change those arrangements deserves a careful and thoughtful analysis.

If and when a base closing commission goes forward, the Nebraska Congressional delegation will have to keep a sharp eye on the process. They and Nebraskans will want to make sure that Offutt Air Force Base is treated fairly and that its national security role is kept in mind.

The last round of BRAC took place in 2005 and its changes were only completed last fall. So, it will take quite a few years to realize any savings from future BRAC efforts.

In the meantime, there’s a step now that could save money. The Defense bill passed in December sets up a study of overseas bases to see whether assets can be shifted out or bases closed. This independent assessment will make sure our military spending for bases, training and the size of our military force supports our national security goals.

After the study comes back and we see how much can be saved on overseas bases, then we might go forward with looking at bases here on our shores.

Some Overseas Bases May be Obsolete 

My sense is that once there are some decisions made about our bases overseas –  some for instance in Europe where many bases are remnants of the Cold War – that some of those missions and personnel will need to be relocated if bases are closed.

Relocation of those missions and personnel back in the U.S. may make sense. So let’s look at our bases globally, make decisions there and then turn to bases on U.S. soil.

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