Gov. Jennifer Granholm was
lobbying officials in Washington, D.C.
last week, as the 2005 version of the Base Realignment and Closure
(BRAC) process is underway. Under the BRAC, the Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Mount Clemens, the Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command in Warren and three facilities in Battle Creek could be closed, with thousands of jobs eliminated.
While BRAC brings short-term pain to affected communities and employees, it also provides useful lessons in budgeting and setting official priorities.
HOW BRAC WORKS
Congress passed the
enabling legislation, which requires every military installation in the United
States to be examined in light of
eight criteria, (link is pdf file) the
first of which is a facilityís "current and future mission capabilities and the
impact on operational readiness of the total force of the Department of
Department of Defense
officials will consider the national security environment, anticipated threats
and the inventory of current military facilities. By May 16, Secretary of
Defense Donald Rumsfeld will send a list of facilities recommended for closure
to the BRAC commission.
The nine-person commission,
whose members were recently appointed by President George Bush, will review the
recommendations and turn in a report to the president by
Sept. 8. If the president
approves the commissionís report, then Congress has its say.
But hereís the unusual part
of the process: the president and Congress must accept or reject the list in its
entirety. No cherry picking or trading is allowed. Before BRAC, one member of
Congress could use military installations as bargaining chips in a process of
Congressional management of military real estate. A senator, for example, could
offer an amendment to forestall the closure of a facility in one state in
exchange for promises of increased agricultural subsidies in his own. The
prohibition on amendments is fundamental to the BRAC reorganization process, and
was established to stymie the kind of legislative gamesmanship that had long
frustrated the Pentagonís plans to adjust its inventory of real estate to best
fulfill its mission.
WHAT HAS HAPPENED SO FAR
As a result of four
previous rounds (1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995),
97 installations around the country
were closed. These included the Warren Tank Arsenal and Wurtsmith Air Force Base
in the lower peninsula, and K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base near Marquette.
The Defense Department
estimates that after costs such as environmental cleanup are taken into
$16.7 billion has been saved. It also estimates that after
2001, another $7 billion has been saved each year.
Even after four previous
rounds of closure, the defense department occupies a substantial amount of real
estate. It owns
over 500,000 installations, used for
functions such as operations, training, maintenance, research and development,
supply, administration and family housing.
In addition to saving
taxpayer money, BRAC is an opportunity for the military to make sure that the
right people and equipment are in the right place at the right time. Changes in
weaponry, geopolitics, local population growth and many other factors can make a military installation obsolete.
THE BROKEN WINDOW
Itís easy to understand why
Gov. Granholm is making her pitch to BRAC commission members. State and local
politicians are often held responsible (justly or not) for the loss of federal
jobs. Policy makers and the public must not, though, forget the lesson of
Frederic Bastiat's "broken
window" fallacy, focusing on the visible effects of spending and
forgetting the invisible effects of taxation.
It is easy to count the
number of government jobs. Public relations campaigns will be waged throughout
the country, as state and local political and business leaders tout the number
of jobs "created" by this or that military installation. The payroll of such
installations, as well as income taxes paid by the associated employees, will
also be mentioned.
Those things are important,
especially for the people directly affected. But for the public at large,
alternate uses of taxpayer money ó money that could have been retained by
individuals and used to support privately-directed business activity ó must not
When government takes our
money to provide services, then, the money should be used to purchase services
(such as military defense) that could not be provided any other way. In other
words, government spending is about achieving important public goals, not simply
providing a certain group of people with jobs.
When the BRAC commission in
1995 considered closing the Army garrison at Selfridge Air National Guard Base,
Candice Miller, then Michiganís secretary of state, acted as an advocate for
the facility. But she based her appeal on the argument that closing it would
hurt the strength of the military. Miller, now a member of Congress, argues that
such an approach must be used again.
"You can go anywhere in the
nation, any installation, and the local people and their local congressperson
will tell you: 'They can't do that to my base because of the economic impact."
Thatís the natural response of any politician "But that's not the business of
the Department of Defense,
to worry about jobs."
Miller has it (half) right.
Saving money is an important goal. But equally important, if not more so, is
whether the governmentís utilization of assets (including in the case of the
Pentagon, real estate) is optimal to perform the legitimate functions of
This means that government
ought to make do with much less than it has and that once the mission of a
department is determined, taxpayer money should be spent in a way to best
achieve the stated objectives.
John R. LaPlante is an
adjunct scholar with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and
educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in
whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are
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