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U.S. Air Force, Former headquarters of the Defense Finance Center and Defense Megacenter at the Buckley Annex in Denver, May 2013, U.S. Department of Defense

Issue Brief

Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC)

In response to perceived Soviet threat, the United States underwent an unprecedented degree of militarization during the Cold War period. This involved the establishment of new infrastructure, technologies, and policies, of which nuclear weapons and nuclear proliferation were a part. Rachel Woodward, Military Geographies (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, Ltd., 2004), 53.As Cold War tensions ebbed in the 1980s, the United States reduced its military and nuclear spending in a move that President George H. W. Bush famously called a “peace dividend.” Since then, the United States has decommissioned many domestic military bases, allowing for greater efficiency as it has shifted its military priorities to the global theater. Bases might be reduced or shut down for a variety of reasons, including financial burden, technological or strategic obsolescence, or environmental degradation. The process of transferring these military holdings to the civilian sector is called “conversion.” Conversion takes two forms. The first is realignment, the addition or removal of military and civilian personnel, which typically results in fewer but larger facilities. The second is closure, to which smaller and more obsolete sites might be relegated. The United States has conducted multiple rounds of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) since 1988, with its most recent round of successful closures taking place in 2005.

Active military sites are owned and operated by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD). When these sites are closed or realigned, custody may be transferred from the DOD to other entities. Before 1986, such sites were known as Formerly Used Defense Sites (FUDS). In 1987, a formal Commission on Base Realignment and Closure (CBRAC) was created to manage the sites. To date, this bipartisan commission has successfully enacted closure rounds in 1988, 1991, 1993, 1995, and 2005.

Base Realignment and Closure is a contentious issue with staunch supporters and opponents alike. Those in favor of BRAC anticipate long-term yields like better infrastructure and higher employment rates. These outcomes are possible for conversion sites so long as factors like timing, location, and local communities’ socioeconomic status align favorably. Failing these criteria, however, BRAC has the potential to do harm to local communities, especially in the short-term. BRAC is socially and economically disruptive, and more so for large populations of semi-skilled or unskilled workers employed on the military bases themselves. Loss of military facilities therefore carries the risk of job loss and economic decline. Rachel Woodward, Military Geographies (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, Ltd., 2004), 61.For example, in 1986 the DOD’s Office of Economic Adjustment reported that the 100 base closures that had taken place in the past two decades had created 138,000 civilian jobs but eliminated 93,000 military jobs. These economic impacts have given rise to grassroots community activism as well as resistance from Congressional representatives, who seek to protect the interests of their constituents. Although BRAC might be proposed to reduce military expenditures, it might also be unsuccessful where conversion is financially or logistically unfeasible. For example, while some severely contaminated military sites have undergone conversion into wildlife refuges, this is deemed impossible for others. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Defense Environmental Restoration Program (DERP) is tasked with the cleanup of former military sites in the hope that they will be suitable for conversion. These sites may pose both health and environmental risks.

When assessing a military site for realignment or closure, Barney Warf, "The Geopolitics/Geoeconomics of Military Base Closures in the USA," Political Geography 16, no. 7 (1997): 546.CBRAC considers many factors including the site’s economic and environmental impacts, potential savings from closure, operating costs, and potential for future growth. So far, five Colorado sites have been selected for BRAC. These are: Bennett Army National Guard, Arapahoe County, recommended for closure in 1988; Pueblo Chemical Depot, recommended for realignment in 1988; Fitzsimons Army Medical Center, Aurora, recommended for closure in 1995; and Fort Carson and Piñon Canyon Maneuver SiteThe realignment of Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site and controversy surrounding its proposed expansion demonstrates that BRAC does not simply mean site closure but a reorganization, consolidation, and extension of military training and maneuver lands.realigned with personnel from Fort Hood, TX, in 2005. In line with the controversies often produced by BRAC actions, the Fort Hood community resisted the base’s realignment, citing loss of personnel and services as well as anticipated financial loss due to a declining housing market.

Sources

Anonymous. “GAO Reports on the Funding and Cleanup Status of Defense Sites.” Hazardous Waste Consultant 28, no. 4 (May-June 2010): 1.10-1.13.

Masco, Joseph. The Theater of Operations: National Security Affect from the Cold War to the War on Terror. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “Formerly Used Defense Sites.” Accessed July 25, 2020.

U.S. Army / The Official Web Site of the BRAC Division, DCS, G9, Base Realignment & Closure Division. "BRAC Search by State." 2012. Accessed August 1, 2020.

U.S. Government Accountability Office. "Defense Infrastructure: Army's Approach for Acquiring Land is Not Guided by Up-to-date Strategic Plan or Always Communicated Effectively." GAO-09-32. January 13, 2009. Accessed June 12, 2021.

Warf, Barney. “The Geopolitics/Geoeconomics of Military Base Closures in the USA.” Political Geography 16, no. 7 (1997): 541-563.

Woodward, Rachel. Military Geographies. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, Ltd., 2004. 

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