Congress Should Choose Service Members Over Wasteful Spending On Weapons

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Ross Marchand Director of Policy, Taxpayers Protection Alliance
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When U.S .service members are informed they will be serving in England, the phrase “danger zone” rarely comes to mind. But incoming military base residents may want to think twice. In December, a man tried to storm the Royal Air Force (RAF) base Mildenhall in England with his vehicle.  Luckily, he was unsuccessful.  But, security threats and incidents are becoming a norm with America’s greatest ally.  Authorities convicted a jihadi in 2015 for plotting to run over and stab service members at US military installations in the United Kingdom. These and other troubling occurrences underscores the need to secure US military bases around the globe, and shutter unneeded installations.

Unfortunately, lawmakers and Pentagon officials have been behind the eight-ball in adapting to new realities on the ground. The Pentagon refuses to prioritize needed safety upgrades at installations around the globe, while Congress remains leery of base closures and consolidation. An unwillingness to take action will only jeopardize the lives of US service members, and ensure that taxpayers are on the line for billions in unnecessary costs.

Despite a worsening security landscape around the world, and terrorism threats afflicting key US allies, basic safety and security operations at US installations are sorely lacking. According to a December report released by the Pentagon’s Inspector General (IG), US military bases in foreign countries continue to suffer from lackluster safety standards. According to a comprehensive health and safety inspection at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, poor safety practices are the norm and checks on contractor projects remain nonexistent. Even simple checks on fire sprinkler installations were lacking in areas frequented by armed services personnel.

The report mentioned “Critical electrical deficiencies,” which means that improper wiring and outmoded systems vastly increase the risk of electrocution. For a prospective intruder reading the report, patterns of system weaknesses make it all-too-easy to inflict large-scale casualties with minimal explosive materials. This muckraking, however, is unlikely to result in substantive action. The Pentagon puts safety upgrades at a far lower priority than new weapons systems, and new funding requests seem squarely focused on unneeded “state of the art” weapons systems.

If Defense appropriators continue to put safety and security investments on the back burner, base consolidations and closures may be the only way to safeguard personnel against foreign threats. The Pentagon and government watchdogs agree on the need to close more military bases. Defense Secretary Mattis has repeatedly argued for the shuttering of unneeded bases, pointing out that another round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) could free up tens of billions for other Pentagon spending.

But strong institutional pressures make closures and consolidations a headache for military planners. A long-planned closure of a US installation in Mannheim, Germany will likely be reversed, under the vague pretense of countering Russian regional influence. In addition to limiting the number of potential targets for terrorists, a new round of closings would add up to large savings for taxpayers. In studying the net savings of the closing (or consolidation) of 451 installations under previous BRAC rounds, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimated that the average savings of each round of closure amounted to $1.5 billion (or $2.1 billion in 2017 dollars). But, despite repeated requests from the Department of Defense to Congress to initiate another round of BRAC, Congress refuses to take action.

Responding to an increased threat environment around the world is no easy task for the US military. The Cold War thinking of far-flung American presence continues to make policymakers and appropriators leery of reducing installations even in allied countries. A new round of BRAC could increase service-member safety, especially if savings are funneled into safety improvements at remaining foreign bases. With this powerful one-two punch, America can res-ecure its global posturing while saving the lives of countless military personnel.

Ross Marchand is the director of policy for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.