The U.S. Senate passed a bill today outlining the nation’s defense policy for the year. The bill could potentially delay the closure of Eielson Air Force Base.
Despite bipartisan calls for reigning in federal spending, there’s zero appetite in Congress for closing military bases.
The last base realignment and closure, or BRAC, in 2005 spared Eielson Air Force Base. Earlier this year, the Air Force indicated plans to relocate the F-16 squadron from Fairbanks to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage.
An amendment from Senator Mark Begich would require the military to report a cost-benefit analysis in any reduction in force at any given base.
“They want to start picking away at these bases and take 100 people, 200 people, 300 people,” Begich said. “And by the time they get to a certain amount they say there’s not enough people there to have a base; we’ll close it.”
The rule would force the Air Force to share the study results with Congress. Congress has authority over the BRAC process, and both Senator Mark Begich and Senator Lisa Murkowski have labeled the Air Force’s proposed reduction a “backdoor BRAC.”
Senator Murkowski says Eielson has a longer run way than JBER and less-traveled air space. She wants the Air Force to report on not just the cost of a move, but also the benefits of keeping the base open.
“Tell us what the potential is as part of your evaluation,” Murkowski said.
The studies coincide with a required environmental impact study and each of them could stall any potential move.
Senator Begich says the Defense Department budget, which could be released to the White House this month, will be an indication of the Air Force’s intent.
“If they have not put any money down for this next year to move, cause they’re going to have to spend money to move, that’s also a verification that this battle is over for now,” Begich said.
The House has already passed its Defense Authorization. Now both chambers of Congress need to meld this bill and pass a final conference report.
The House version has a similar plan from U.S. Representative Don Young.