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BRAC proposal in budget draws concern, opposition

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FORT DRUM — A new push for base realignment and closure in the Department of Defense’s fiscal year 2014 budget will not receive congressional support, according to Rep. William L. Owens.

“The president can propose BRAC but it takes Congress to approve it,” said Mr. Owens, D-Plattsburgh. “The fact that the president proposes it doesn’t mean much.”

The DOD’s proposed $526.6 billion budget, announced Wednesday, includes a request for a 2015 BRAC round, which would go into effect in 2016. Additional funds have been designated for future budgets to handle front-end costs associated with such a plan.

Any base closure would require congressional approval. Last year, a similar BRAC request was quickly defeated in Congress.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale said the military would continue to request base closures from Congress.

“We know we need it. It’s the only effective way to consolidate infrastructure,” he said. “I think it would be irresponsible of us not to go up there and say, as a part of a package, ‘We need you to let us do this.’”

The last BRAC round took place in 2005, with other rounds in 1995, 1993, 1991 and 1989.

Mr. Owens said he would have a tough time voting for the newly proposed budget as it stands because of the inclusion of BRAC.

“I don’t think it’s necessary,” he said.

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense member said savings could come from other places in the budget.

Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, a Senate Armed Services Committee member, expressed doubt about the effectiveness of BRAC cuts.

“As we’ve seen before, such proposals do not necessarily produce long-term savings in the Defense budget but instead come at the expense of local economies and military communities that are home to some of America’s bravest,” she said in a statement from her office.

Carl A. McLaughlin, executive director of the Fort Drum Regional Liaison Organization, said the request did not surprise him. He added he anticipated installations such as the post would not be the main subject of cuts, with reductions instead centered at smaller depots and other testing sites. However, Mr. McLaughlin said the possibility of cuts left him uneasy.

“Every time you’re faced with base closures, you have to be prepared to go to the mat for it,” he said. “It is a process where they look at what consolidations makes sense. I think our asset makes sense.”

Mr. Hale said reducing infrastructure was also necessary to reduce civilian personnel, another department goal. Asked if economic improvements in the next two years could improve the prospects for base closures, he said that may work in the department’s favor.

Other highlights of Wednesday’s budget announcement include:

n A decrease in $900 million from the previous year’s budget.

n No accounting for cuts in connection to sequestration, and about $50 billion more than what would be allowed under budget legislation passed in 2011. Without a new agreement overriding sequestration, the budget would face automatic cuts.

n An increase in charges, deductibles and co-pays for Tricare users, such as a new enrollment fee for new Tricare for Life beneficiaries.

n A 1 percent increase in military pay. Housing and subsistence allowances would rise by 4.2 and 3.4 percent, respectively.

n No list of Overseas Contingencies Operations funding requests, which may not be available for a few weeks.

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