Senators want commission to consider overseas base closings

Stars and Stripes

by Leo Shane III

WASHINGTON — A pair of U.S. senators are calling for full review of the costs of overseas military bases, saying that closing dozens of the foreign facilities could save billions in wasteful spending.

Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, on Wednesday introduced legislation to create a new commission to “scrutinize the necessity of the United States’ current overseas basing structure” and do a cost-benefit analysis of closing multiple overseas bases.

Earlier in the week, the pair sent a letter to the congressional supercommittee charged with trimming $1.2 trillion in government spending, urging them to make significant cuts in future overseas military construction projects.

AdvertisementIn particular, the letter called into question U.S. military projects in Europe and on Guam, saying the Defense Department has not justified the need for billions more in base spending there.

In a statement, Hutchison called the commission an important step toward ending unnecessary military spending.

“With today’s historic levels of debt, we need to move quickly to identify ways that we can bring our military training capabilities home, create American jobs in military construction and save taxpayer dollars without sacrificing the security needs of U.S. forces and the American people,” she said.

In May, Tester petitioned the Defense Department to consider closing Cold War-era military installations on foreign soil, saying the move could save billions of taxpayer dollars.

The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform earlier this year estimated that “responsible” overseas base closings could save taxpayers $8.5 billion in the next four years. The president’s own Commission on Debt Reduction put that figure closer to $9 billion.

But Defense Department officials have pushed back on those claims. In June, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that those savings don’t include the corresponding military construction needed stateside to house returning troops, and don’t take into account the strategic risk such moves would invite.

“The biggest policy question that has to be asked is what kind of signal do you want to send the rest of the world,” Gates told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “Are we basically sending the message to the rest of the world, to China, to Iran, to North Korea … that the U.S. is closing up and heading home? What kind of a role do you want for the United States in the world?”

The eight-member panel would be appointed by both Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate. The legislation would have to be approved by both chambers and signed into law by the president before becoming law.