Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said there will be no new round of military base closings next year, abandoning a proposal he made in February that Congress was set to oppose.
"It's now clear obviously there will not be a round of BRAC authorized" in 2013, Panetta said Monday in a speech to the Association of Defense Communities in Monterey, Calif., referring to the base realignment and closure process, known as BRAC.
"Frankly, this was no surprise," he said, noting that in anticipation of congressional opposition, he had not allocated any money in the budget to initiate a new round of closings.
"I didn't put any money on the provision," Panetta said. "But it's an important debate to have and, frankly, it's not going away."
The House and Senate Armed Services committees rejected a new base-closing round in their versions of the annual defense authorization bill for next year. Many lawmakers questioned the effectiveness and fairness of the 2005 closure round.
"Now may not be the time for BRAC as our economy recovers, but sooner or later, one way or another, the department is going to need to take a hard look at its basing infrastructure as we seek to reduce our overhead costs," Panetta said in prepared remarks.
The Pentagon chief had proposed two new closing rounds in 2013 and 2015, saying the Defense Department must cut excess infrastructure as the military becomes smaller.
Otherwise, money needed for training the troops will be spent to maintain unneeded bases, he said.
"It's the very definition of hollowing out our force," Panetta said.
He acknowledged complaints from Congress that the cost of previous closings "were way out of line from what was predicted" in some cases. Even so, the prior rounds of closings are saving about $8 billion a year, he said.
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, released the following statement Monday night in response to Panetta's announcement:
"In January, when the Pentagon first announced its BRAC request to Congress, I did not hesitate to oppose the measure. In fact, I called it 'dead on arrival.' My justification then was based on the serious questions that still surround the 2005 BRAC, which, to this day has not produced a single penny of savings for taxpayers. Although some expressed skepticism at the time that my position would prevail, Secretary Panetta's pronouncement today recognizes the validity of my criticism."
"I continue to believe that the justification for a new BRAC round does not exist, but in the meantime, we as a delegation will continue to redouble our efforts to strengthen the Groton Sub Base's military value, which is the best guarantee to an enduring future."