Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited.
Document created: 15 March 2006
Air & Space Power Journal - Chronicles Online Journal
Col Stephen R. Schwalbe
|The process of institutionalization is one of the grand themes in all of modern social science.... Most people agree that for a political system to be viable.... it must be institutionalized.1|
Nelson Polsby, 1968
|Yet in the fast-growing literature on the politics of developing areas, political institutionalization usually receives scant treatment.2|
Samuel Huntington, 1965
The reason the theory of institutionalization is so important is that it provides the basis for optimum efficiency and effectiveness, two pillars of public administration, within government organizations. Herbert Simon, a Nobel Laureate in economics, noted that administrative efficiency is increased when organizations specialize by function and/or place.3 As well, efficiency is increased by grouping employees according to purpose, process, or place. If independent commissions, commonly perceived to be ad hoc organizations, can become institutionalized, then Congress needs to ensure those that qualify are provided with the mandate and resources to remain institutionalized.
Although the institutionalization of ad hoc government organizations, such as independent commissions, appears counter-intuitive, this paper argues that select independent commissions that are periodically reestablished to perform a needed service can become institutionalized over time. Once an organization is recognized as an institution, it gains more legitimacy and authority, leading to greater effectiveness. One current and important example of such a federal organization is the congressionally-chartered Base Realignment And Closure (BRAC) independent commission. As of 2005, Congress had established five of these commissions to facilitate the realignment and closure of military installations with minimal political influence over the process. If BRAC commissions are becoming institutionalized, then Congress should consider making the BRAC independent commission and process permanent to complete the transformation.
The majority of the published work on institutionalization is written at a macro level. In other words, scholars normally applied the theory of institutionalization to states and countries to assess social and economic change in what could be termed governmental institutionalization. However, beginning with Nelson Polsby, institutionalization began to be used to analyze organizational change within modern state governments as well. Instead of analyzing the changes within legislative bodies among various countries, regions, and societies, particularly in the underdeveloped world, Polsby began the trend of analyzing the institutionalization of organizations within the governments of developed countries. He was the first to analyze the institutionalization of an organization - the U.S. House of Representatives.
Polsby applied Samuel Huntington’s institutionalization theory4 to organizations within government, thereby pioneering the field of “organizational institutionalization.” He applied organizational institutionalization to the U.S. House of Representatives in a landmark article.5 In general, he assessed that for political systems to be viable, they must be institutionalized: “…organizations must be created and sustained that are specialized to political activity. Otherwise, the political system is likely to be unstable, weak, and incapable of servicing the demands or protecting the interests of its constituent groups.”6
In his article, Polsby noted that an organization becomes institutionalized when it satisfies three criteria: 1) well-bounded; 2) relatively complex; and, 3) universalistic.7 By well-bounded, he meant that an organization could be differentiated from its environment, its employees easily identifiable, its employees meet higher qualifications, and, its leadership comes from within the organization. By relatively complex, he meant that an organization’s functions are internally separated, its parts are not wholly interchangeable, yet, its parts maintain some interdependency. Finally, by universalistic he meant that an organization tends to follow precedents and rules, favoritism and nepotism are replaced by a merit system, and, impersonal codes supplant personal preferences.8
Polsby took the organizational institutionalization criteria of complexity even farther by making a few observations and new conclusions. First, where Huntington implied organizational size is a function of institutionalization, Polsby concluded: “as organizations grow in size, they tend to develop internally in ways predicted by the theory of institutionalization.”9 Further, he found that: “As the responsibilities of the national government grew...the agencies of the national government institutionalized.10” As the House of Representatives became more complex with subcommittees and internal procedures to ensure voting (i.e., the whip system), Polsby discovered that: “Institutionalization has, in the House, on the whole meant the decentralization of power.” Related to institutionalization causing the decentralization of power, he found that sub-units did not need to be hierarchical to qualify as increasing organizational complexity. He concluded that: “these findings suggest that increasing hierarchical structure is not a necessary feature of the institutionalization process.”11 Let us now turn to what independent commissions are and how they can become institutionalized.
|There are no more important tasks being done by the federal government than those which have been assigned to the independent regulatory commissions. None affect more vitally the economic life of the nation.12|
Robert Cushman, 1941
Colton Campbell recently defined the term commissions as: “formal groups established by statute or decree for the general purpose of obtaining advice, developing common sense recommendations on complex policy issues, and finding broadly acceptable solutions to contentious problems.”13 Usually, these issues deal with major social crises, such as the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, and the establishment of the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States; policy issues, such as the future of the U.S. in deep space, and the establishment of the Commission on Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy; or studies of a complex, technical nature, such as the level of medical costs, and the establishment of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission. Several decades ago, Robert Cushman described a commission as independent when: “it is entirely outside any regular executive department.... It is subject to no direct supervision or control by any Cabinet Secretary or by the President.”14 Finally, a distinction can be made between independent and regulatory commissions. Where all commissions are independent according to Cushman’s definition, only those that have oversight of some government responsibility or a private industry are considered regulatory.
The U.S. Constitution is silent regarding commissions. Cushman, however, explains how commissions are not contrary to the intent of the Constitution:
The three distributing clauses of the Constitution deal with governmental powers, legislative, executive, and judicial. It is powers, not departments, which are separated. The Constitution wisely left to Congress a broad discretion in establishing the governmental machinery by which these powers are to be exercised.15
Today, many scholars characterize commissions as an unofficial, separate branch of government, much like the news media. Colton Campbell referred to commissions as the “fifth arm of government,” after the media.16 In this capacity, commissions can serve as another instrument to hold organizations within the federal government accountable.
Cushman determined that the federal government often found it easier to create “a new and independent government body than to fit a new job into the existing administrative structure with its confusing network of jurisdictional lines.”17 A corollary to this observation is that when bureaucracy acquires a new responsibility, it rarely relinquishes it. In this regard, independent commissions are relatively economical as they tend to have a short existence. Furthermore, independent commissions conceivably can cut through the so-called “red tape” of bureaucracy to produce more efficient, effective, and timely recommendations to resolve problems; while regulatory commissions allow Congress to oversee Executive Branch functions and industry operations more efficiently and effectively than it could itself.
Since commissions are not mentioned in the Constitution, their legitimacy stems primarily from the laws that authorized them. Presidents began using commissions shortly after Congress did. Wolanin explained that the technical authority of the President and Congress to use commissions stems from the right of the legislative and executive branches to inform themselves for legislative and execution purposes through various kinds of investigations.18 The Supreme Court confirmed this explanation in 1954 in a case between Phillips Petroleum Company and the State of Wisconsin (Phillips Petroleum Company v. Wisconsin). The court ruled that regulatory commissions had “congressional intent for jurisdiction over all the rates of all wholesales of natural gas in interstate commerce.”19 Some of the first established included the National Bituminous Coal Commission, the U.S. Maritime Commission, and the U.S. Tariff Commission.
Commissions serve numerous functions in the U.S. government. They include: 1) provide policy recommendations and regulatory oversight based on expertise and experience; 2) investigate the sources of a crisis; 3) offer shield against voter retribution; 4) demonstrate a symbolic response to a crisis; 5) provide opportunity to determine voter desires or to garner voter support; 6) avail as the option of last resort; 7) resolve problems between the executive and legislative branches of government; and, 8) educate and persuade the public, government officials, as well as commissioners.
Campbell found that commissions perform several other functions besides providing recommendations to the President and Congress.20 The most common function performed by independent commissions besides policy recommendations is investigative. Following every national crisis, natural or man-made, the President or Congress usually establishes an independent commission to investigate what happened and how efficiently and effectively government organizations responded. For example, following the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963, President Lyndon Johnson established an independent commission with Executive Order #11130. The commission, headed by Earl Warren, the Chief Justice of the United States, was chartered to investigate whether the killing was accomplished by a lone gunman or a group of people. This commission, commonly referred to as the Warren Commission, was given unrestricted investigating powers, and included the U.S. Solicitor General and 14 criminal lawyers. In 1979, following the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant disaster, President Jimmy Carter established an independent commission to investigate how the accident happened and how it could have been prevented. More recently, following the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, Congress chartered an independent commission to investigate the failings of the Intelligence Community to provide adequate warning. Congress contemplated establishing an independent commission to investigate the federal government’s management of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of the Gulf Coast, the worst natural disaster to impact the United States. As with some of the other congressionally-chartered investigative commissions, Congress did not establish it in part because the investigation could lead back to Congress itself.
Independent commissions are often formed to provide a convenient scapegoat to deflect the wrath of the electorate, i.e., “blame avoidance.” Members of Congress generally want to avoid making difficult decisions that may affect their chances for reelection. Campbell wrote: “Incentives to avoid blame lead members of Congress to adopt a distinctive set of political strategies, such as ‘passing the buck’ or ‘defection’….”21 Another technique legislators use to avoid incurring the wrath of the voters is to postpone any controversial decisions until after the next election. Establishing a commission to research an issue and come up with recommendations is an effective way to do that. The most clear-cut case demonstrating all of these techniques is the congressionally-established BRAC independent commissions. Lilly Goren emphatically declared that the primary reason for the BRAC commissions was to deflect electorate blame for local base closings.22 As for deliberate timing, Congress established each BRAC commission during a non-election year: 1989, 1991, 1993, 1995, and 2005.
|Base Closure, while more dramatic than many government-reduction processes, deserves an examination because it is a classic example of government reduction, to be studied for lessons about both politics and the hazards of government contraction.23|
David Sorenson, 1988
At the end of World War II, the U.S. military maintained over 5,600 bases and installations stateside and around the world, and possessed over 24 million acres in the U.S. alone (which is an area larger in size than Maryland, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Rhode Island combined).24 The U.S. Government believed it needed this military force infrastructure in anticipation of a hot war with the Soviet Union during the Cold War. However, the number of troops and the size of the Department of Defense (DOD) budget decreased dramatically following World War II. Between 1945 and 1947, American forces dropped from around 10 million people to just 1.4 million.25 Stephen Ambrose found that following the Allied victory in Europe in May 1945, the U.S. Army was reduced from 3.5 million troops to just 400,000 by March 1946, completing the most rapid demobilization in the history of the world.26 Commensurate with the massive troop reduction was a significant drop in the Defense Department budget. As a percentage of the gross domestic product (GDP), it shrunk from about 37.5 percent to just 3.5 percent by 1948.27 Yet, the infrastructure supporting the military during World War II remained pretty much intact. This infrastructure-forces gap at that time was the largest it was and would probably ever be.
With the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in 1989, the Cold War was essentially over. Following the largest military buildup during peacetime in world history during the 1980s, Defense spending was cut again, from 6.1 percent of the GDP in 1987 to as low as 3.0 percent of the GDP by 1999.28 The process of adjusting the size of the American military infrastructure to match the size of the military in terms of personnel and equipment has always been a challenge, none more so than after the United States won the Cold War.
Congress, following the recommendations of the Grace Commission, established an independent commission to recommend military base closings to reduce the infrastructure-force size gap. Representative Dick Armey (R-TX) proposed an amendment to the 1988 defense authorization bill that created an independent commission, analogous to the Social Security Commission, to facilitate the selection and closing of military bases with minimal political influence.29 Public Law 100-526, the “Defense Savings Act,” subsequently established a special independent commission under the Secretary of Defense to identify bases for realignment and closure, and to provide relief from the aforementioned statutory provisions that had hindered DOD’s downsizing efforts since 1977.30
A key reason for the establishment of a BRAC independent commission was to ensure that partisan politics had as little influence as possible on the process of downsizing the military infrastructure. For the 1988 BRAC Commission, chartered by the Secretary of Defense, the process began with the appointment of 12 volunteer commissioners. The even number was politically motivated to ensure an equal number of Democrats and Republicans were represented on the Commission. In fact, there were even two Chairmen, one from each political party.31
Because the 1988 BRAC process resulted in a reduction in the DOD infrastructure of around three percent, more BRAC commissions were required to complete the process of aligning Defense infrastructure with force size. As such, Congress passed Public Law 101-510, signed into law by President George Bush on November 5, 1990, authorizing three more BRAC commissions to occur in odd years, beginning in 1991 until 1995, to cut the U.S. military infrastructure by 25 percent. It authorized $13 million for the operation of all three commissions. This 1990 BRAC legislation corrected almost all of the problems identified during the 1988 BRAC process: 1) having the President and Congress rather than the Secretary of Defense nominate the commissioners, who were to be paid for their services; 2) using clearly articulated, published criteria and certified data for decision-making; 3) requiring both the President and Congress to accept or reject in their entirety the lists of closures adopted by the BRAC commission; 4) creating tight time frames to force the process to reach decisions in a timely manner; and, 5) having Congress’s General Accounting Office (GAO) assess the commission’s process, data, and recommendations.32 Congress decided that the 12 commissioners of the first BRAC commission were too many, and that DOD had too many representatives, both as members and staffers to be considered truly independent. As well, the mandate to recover the cost of closing a military base within six years was too restrictive and had prevented the closing of several obsolete installations. Finally, DOD improved its decision-making process by improving its computer modeling and approach to data gathering.33
The 1991 BRAC Commission had eight members who conducted 29 public hearings in Washington, D.C. and across the country, and of whom at least one visited every installation that made the list. Sorenson noted that, despite the mixed backgrounds of the commissioners, “they voted 76 times, and, of those votes, 57 were unanimous.”34 This voting pattern is indicative of the advice Thomas Wolanin provided that commissions strive for unanimity in their recommendations to enhance the prospect of their implementation.35 As well, all previous BRAC recommendations became eligible for review by subsequent commissions. About 15 percent of the time during the BRAC commissions of the 1990s, the commissioners voted to change the DOD recommended BRAC list.36 For example, the 1991 BRAC Commission reviewed the controversial closure decision on Fort Dix by the 1988 BRAC Commission, and reversed it.
Despite the best efforts of Congress in its 1990 BRAC legislation, problems still persisted in the process. For example, according to the GAO, the Services and DOD still had not developed an accurate cost data model to project savings over time.37 Congress still believed DOD was exaggerating the figures in order to get its way using the Cost of Base Realignment Action (COBRA) computer model, which was designed to track expenses and disbursements, not cost savings. Further, the disposition of military bases once recommended for closure had not been thoroughly thought through. Environmental restoration of military base contamination is often the most difficult obstacle to transferring property to private use. As such, the projected cost savings are not realized until such transfers take place. The 1995 BRAC Commission recommended DOD receive statutory authority to enter into long-term leases of land that was not suitable for transfer, so long as there is no threat to public health or safety.38
In total, the first four BRAC commissions generated 499 military installation recommendations, including 97 major base closures.39 As a result of these actions, DOD estimates that it has reduced its domestic infrastructure by around 21 percent. Yet, in 2004, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld certified the need for yet more BRAC commissions due to a continued excess capacity in DOD of 24 percent.40 The GAO did a cost savings study and determined that DOD accrued an estimated $16.7 billion in savings through fiscal year 2001, an increase over prior military estimates, and should save $6.6 billion in annual recurring savings. These estimates do not include a cumulative $1.5 billion cost incurred by the federal government to assist communities affected by the closure process, or the $3.5 billion so far spent for environmental clean-up costs.41
The common public concern is that closing a base would adversely affect the local community due to loss of tax revenue, defense income, base transition costs, and clean-up costs. Military bases are one of the most common sources of defense dollars; hence, their closure would stop any monies that local businesses may have received.42 On the other hand, the local communities around Fort Ord are expecting to pay around $500 million just to improve the installation buildings to make them suitable for new businesses.43
The GAO reported that despite the significant base closures of four rounds of BRAC commissions since 1988: “DOD continues to maintain a large amount of excess infrastructure, especially in its support functions…. Each service maintains its own facilities and capabilities for performing many common support functions and, as a result, DOD has overlapping, redundant, and underutilized infrastructure.” The Secretary of Defense’s 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review discussed the issue of future base closures in its infrastructure chapter. In his May 1997 report to Congress, Secretary Cohen asked Congress to authorize two more BRAC commissions for 1999 and 2001. His recommendation was subsequently endorsed by the National Defense Panel. The legislation authorizing the three base closure rounds in the 1990s expired at the end of 1995, meaning DOD’s authority to close or realign bases reverted to the 1970s legislation, under which it was unable to close any installations. As a result, Congress was again challenged to come up with a solution regarding excess defense infrastructure.44
Congress was still upset about the political interference of President Clinton in 1995, and, did not authorize any further base closures while he was President. With the election of George W. Bush in 2000, the Republican-controlled Congress passed Public Law 107-107 that amended the 1990 legislation to authorize just one more round of base closures. However, this round was characterized as the “Mother of all BRACs,” as Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld declared his intention to cut as much surplus as the previous four rounds combined, to include at least 25 percent of its remaining real estate. As usual, no military bases would be exempt in advance of BRAC commission consideration.45 All senior military and civilian leaders in the Pentagon had a voice in recommending which bases get closed or realigned.
Secretary Rumsfeld viewed the 2005 BRAC as: “a singular opportunity, perhaps the last best chance in a generation to reshape our infrastructure to optimize military readiness.”46 As such, the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) oversaw the process within DOD, instead of each of the individual Services as in previous rounds, in order to maximize fairness and jointness. Prior BRAC analyses considered all functions on a Service-by-Service basis, without a common database or cross-Service value system.47 One consequence was that the 1990s BRAC analyses did not result in the joint examination of functions across the Services. The Service Chiefs all agreed to support a centralized, OSD-driven BRAC in 2005.
Prior to the 1970s, it had been the Secretary of Defense who authorized domestic military base closures. Eventually, Congress got involved to remove as much of the political influence on the closure recommendations as possible. The first congressionally-chartered BRAC commission was required to identify and recommend all military base realignments and closures. Subsequently, the Service Secretaries were given the responsibility for identifying base realignments and closures during the BRAC process of the 1990s. With the congressional emphasis on jointness, as reflected in the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act passed by Congress in 1986, the only person today qualified to oversee consolidations and closures based on the joint criteria is the Secretary of Defense. So we have come full circle with the Secretary of Defense again responsible for identifying which military installations to realign and which to close. However, now Congress and the President have a significant input into the decision-making process, unlike ever before.
Like a perfect storm, changes in the global military posture and the need to reduce overhead combined to offer DOD the perfect opportunity to balance its infrastructure using the proven BRAC process. It also provided a unique opportunity to reshape DOD’s infrastructure, consisting of around 26 million acres and 600,000 military structures worldwide valued at over $600 billion. Many of these military installations date from World War II or the 1950s, and have deteriorated significantly over the years costing possibly billions of dollars to replace or upgrade.48 Secretary Rumsfeld took the BRAC process and integrated it with his efforts to transform DOD to become more responsive, flexible, lighter, technology-focused, effective and efficient, to manage the current and anticipated challenges of the 21st century more successfully.49
According to DOD, from 1988 until 2001, its budget decreased 40 percent and its personnel level decreased 36 percent. Yet, its infrastructure decreased only 21 percent, and that was after four base closing rounds.50 In fact, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld reported to the 2005 BRAC Commission that DOD, using a parametric approach to compare 1989 base loading to the proportionate requirements of forces and infrastructure projected for 2009, determined that it still had an aggregate of 24 percent in excess capacity.51 Even with the decrease in Defense infrastructure as a result of BRAC 2005, it appears the infrastructure will still be in excess of what is needed - justifying yet more base closure commissions in the future.
Now that the 2005 BRAC round is completed, the BRAC commission will once again cease to exist. The 2002 BRAC legislation will expire, and the BRAC process will revert back to the O’Neill-Cohen Law, signed into law by President Carter on August 1, 1977, which effectively prevented DOD from closing any military installations until after the first BRAC commission was established in 1988. As before, Congress allowed the 1990 statutory authority for BRAC to expire, and did not renew it until after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. As a result, the BRAC commission’s permanent caretaker staff was disbanded and institutional infrastructure terminated after December 1995. The 2005 BRAC commissioners found this situation to be almost untenable, given the limited time they had to accomplish the mission. The commissioners were forced to expend an inordinate amount of time hiring support staff and establishing a working environment just to get the process started.52 As such, one could hardly characterize the BRAC commissions as an institution if it is no longer viable.
|Some people think this is the last BRAC round ever. I suspect that there will be future ones.53|
Phillip Coyle, 2005 BRAC Commissioner
When assessing a subjective issue such as when an organization becomes an institution, there is no clear-cut line that one can use to claim transformation. However, as a qualitative case study, we can still draw conclusions. In the case of BRAC independent commissions, it satisfied each of the measurements to determine institutionalization. As such, it would be logical to declare that BRAC commissions have achieved institution status, and therefore should receive similar support as other federal institutions, such as annual funding and permanent staffing. However, there are other considerations to discuss before making any final assessments.
The BRAC commissions differ from other independent commissions in many significant ways. First, it is one of the few to be reestablished periodically to accomplish a politically-sensitive assignment. Yet, none of the BRAC commissions to date has come close to realigning and closing enough DOD infrastructure to eliminate the force size-infrastructure gap. On the other hand, the BRAC commission is still a proven method for the realigning and closing of domestic military bases. Another “uniqueness” is that the results of each BRAC commission are perceived by most people to be a list of winners (military installations not approved for closure or realignment) and losers (those bases that are approved). No other independent commission product results in this type of national-level competition. In fact, once BRAC recommendations are approved by the President and not disapproved by Congress, they become law, not just recommendations in a final report, as is the case for most other independent commissions. Finally, where one of the primary purposes of an independent commission is to resolve disputes between branches of government, this does not happen very often. However, this is one of the primary purposes of the BRAC commission. Let us discuss each of these three aspects of BRAC commission uniqueness in more detail.
Right Size DOD
Shortly after each BRAC recommendation list is “approved” (technically, not disapproved) by Congress, DOD provides its estimate of how much of its infrastructure is projected to be reduced, and how much more is needed to be cut.54 Following the 1995 BRAC round, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General John Shalikashvili testified regarding the force size-infrastructure gap that: “the result is that we perhaps have more infrastructure today than we did when the base-closure process started.”55 For the indefinite future, it is likely that there will be a requirement for BRAC commissions to reduce infrastructure, as DOD is one of the largest bureaucracies in the world and still growing. It is currently engaged in two major military operations overseas: Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF - Afghanistan).
Regarding its new Defense of the Homeland mission, DOD may now be required to assume leadership in natural as well as man-made domestic disasters. As a result, DOD may be required to increase infrastructure in regions of the United States that lack adequate military presence. Many governors emphatically made this very point to the 2005 BRAC Commission regarding the proposed movement of ANG assets out of their respective states. The bottom line is that it does not appear likely that the infrastructure will match the force size any time in the near future. According to the National Defense Panel’s assessment of the May 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) report, “Unless this imbalance is corrected, DOD’s ability to protect our national security interests may be seriously compromised.”56
Even if the gap is eventually closed, DOD will probably still require realignments to accommodate a changing threat environment. Regarding unit realignments, the GAO found that: “the nature of closures and realignments was such that both could result in the closure of portions of facilities, and the distinction between the two was not always clear.”57 As such, members of Congress are concerned as much about realignments as installation closings as personnel and weapon system transfers also adversely affect local economies and potentially establish a case for a future base closing. Thus, there is little reason to believe that the BRAC process will not be needed in the near or distant future to “right size” DOD using base closings and realignments to meet ever-changing threats.
Winners and Losers
BRAC commissions are also unique in that unlike other independent commissions that provide a policy recommendation to the President or Congress, this commission provides a recommended list of base realignments and closings that is reflected in the media and perceived by the public as “winners and losers” in the BRAC process. This is reflected most distinctly during BRAC commission hearings conducted around the country. The officials that testify at the hearings reflect the highest elected and business leaders in the communities and states. It is not uncommon to see members of Congress, governors, mayors, and retired military general officers in a consultant capacity testify before the BRAC commission. This is not the case for most other independent commissions primarily because BRAC recommendations end up being law and not just recommendations.
Finally, the BRAC commission is unique in that it resolves a bitter dispute between the Executive and Legislative Branches of the federal government. In this case, members of Congress did not approve of the manner in which the Secretary of Defense was aligning and closing military installations beginning in the 1960s, believing many of the DOD actions to be politically motivated and not based on military value. The result was legislation in 1977 that effectively prevented DOD from closing or realigning any more military installations. Supreme Court jurisdiction includes adjudicating disputes between the Executive and Legislative Branches of government. For example, in 1994, the Supreme Court accepted the BRAC case brought by Senator Specter as it involved a federal dispute between Congress and DOD.
The BRAC commission has most of the attributes of an institution. At this point, it is time to complete the institutionalization of the BRAC commission in order to improve its efficiency and effectiveness in the future. To do this means implementing modifications to the National Defense Authorization Act of FY 1990 (Public Law 101-510), as modified by the National Defense Authorization Act of FY 2002 (Public Law 107-107), to rectify the aforementioned shortfalls. The specific legislative changes required to complete the institutionalization of the BRAC commission include its:
1) name; 2) budget control; and, 3) permanency.
It does not make any sense to continue officially referring to the base closure commission or process as “Defense Base Closure and Realignment” as cited in the 1990 legislation. The 1988 base closure commission established by the Secretary of Defense was referred to as the “Commission on Base Realignments and Closures.”58 As such, the BRAC acronym was coined in the beginning and has not been challenged by the 1990 acronym DBCR. The media, public, authors, commissioners themselves, commission staffers, members of Congress, and even the President still refer to the commission and process as “BRAC.” To solidify its identity, enhance its institutionalization, and minimize any future name confusion, it should officially be changed by Congress to align with the popular acronym.
To achieve real independence, an organization must have control over its own budget. In its report to the President, the 2005 BRAC Commission pointed out in Chapter 2, “Issues for Further Consideration,” in the sub-section entitled “Commission Independence,” that: “the independence of a future Commission would be enhanced if it could manage its expenditures autonomously rather than continuously negotiating budget and expenses with DOD, a process inherent in the current organizational structure.”59 Apparently the control of the BRAC commission budget, that originated with the 1988 BRAC legislation (with the commission under the direction of the Secretary of Defense), never was completely relinquished by DOD in the subsequent BRAC rounds. Where Section 2902(k) of the National Defense Authorization Act of 19960 specifically authorized funding for the BRAC commission so that it could execute its duties as legislated, no such provision existed in the 1988 legislation. However, according to Public Law 101-510, if Congress did not appropriate the funds to the BRAC commission fund, then the money was to be transferred by the Secretary of Defense from the DOD Base Closure Account, established by Section 207 of Public Law 100-526. As Congress did not transfer any money, DOD had some oversight regarding how much money would be transferred from its BRAC account, and how the money would be spent in support of the BRAC commission. Clearly, this dual budget control is antithetical to organizational independence, which is essential for complete institutionalization.
As a result of her in-depth study of the BRAC process, Lilly Goren determined that the commission had indeed become an institution. She observed that in the beginning Congress had not intended the BRAC process to be “a permanent institutionalized structure.”61 However, with each successive BRAC round, it became more responsible and legitimate: “The process itself was now regularized and institutionalized; it was no longer a ‘one-time affair.’”62 David Sorenson, the only other scholar to publish a book on BRAC, came to a similar conclusion stating in 1998 that: “BRAC was a regularized process in its last three interations (sic).”63
However, neither of these two authors recommended passing legislation to make the BRAC process permanent. On the other hand, three of the five BRAC commissions included a recommendation to continue the BRAC process in their Report to the President.64 In 1988, in a section entitled “A Look Ahead,” the Commission recommended that: “the nation’s interests will be best served by an ongoing base-management process that is responsive to change.”65 In 1995, in a chapter entitled "Issues for Further Consideration," the Commission expressed concern that the base-closure process was reverting back to the 1977 legislation:
Experience has demonstrated that the process for closing or realigning bases contained in Section 2687 is unworkable. During the decade following the enactment of this statute in 1977, the Defense Department did not close or realign a single major military installation in the United States.66
This mattered because even before the 1995 list had been approved and the recommended military bases closed, most analysts could see that the force size-infrastructure gap remained. The report claimed that:
Despite four rounds of base closures and realignments, reductions in domestic infrastructure in the Defense Department have not kept pace with reductions in funding and force levels.... By the end of this decade, the Army will have eliminated 45 percent of its divisions, the Air force 44 percent of its tactical fighter wings, and the Navy 37 percent of its ships.... With the additional reductions proposed by this Commission, the cumulative reduction in military installations will be approximately 21 percent.67
As a result, the Commission recommended that Congress authorize more BRAC commissions similar to the three 1990 commissions.68
In 1993, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 1994, which among other things established the Commission on Roles and Missions. The Commission Chairman was John White and included eight other commissioners, including former Secretary of Defense Les Aspin (1993-94) and five general officers. The purpose of this Commission was to review the appropriateness of the current allocations of roles, missions and functions among the Armed Forces; evaluate and report on alternative allocations; and make recommendations for changes in the current definitions and distribution of those roles, missions and functions. On May 24, 1995, the Commission released its report, Directions for Defense, which recommended that DOD conduct a “Bottom-Up Review-like quadrennial strategy review.” On August 24, 1995, the Defense Department concurred with this recommendation to require a review of its current and future military posture to counter projected threats.69
In 1996, Congress passed legislation mandating a quadrennial defense review (QDR) and establishing an independent commission, known as the National Defense Panel (NDP), to assess all aspects of the DOD’s QDR report.70 In 1999, Congress passed a permanent requirement for the QDR to conduct a comprehensive, in-depth review of the nation’s defense posture, strategy, force structure, modernization, capabilities, and budgets for the following 20 years. To date, DOD has conducted only two QDR’s, one each in 1997 and 2001. The SecDef submitted the next QDR report to the President and Congress in February 2006, following the 2005 BRAC Commission final report, which was submitted on September 5, 2005.
The NDP commented on the 1997 QDR noting both its strengths and weaknesses: “The QDR offers a strategic concept for shaping the geostrategic environment, responding to the full spectrum of conflict, and preparing for future challenges;” however, “there is insufficient connectivity between strategy on the one hand, and force structure, operational concepts, and procurement decisions on the other.”71 Regarding BRAC independent commissions, the NDP endorsed the Secretary of Defense’s request for two additional BRAC rounds, in 1999 and 2001. But, it did not believe the Secretary of Defense went far enough: “Indeed, permanent BRAC authority would be most desirable to facilitate adjustments in the base structure as needs and forces change.”72
In 2005, the BRAC Commission made a strong case for the need for future BRAC commissions:
It is highly likely America’s security environment and corresponding military organization will continue to change, necessitating periodic re-examinations of the infrastructure supporting that organization. The Base Closure and Realignment process has repeatedly proven its worth.... The need for such a process will continue after the 2005 Commission ends....73
However, the 2005 Commission did not just recommend a follow-on BRAC commission; it went further by writing the proposed legislative changes and recommending the timing for the next round:
The Defense Base Closure and Realignment Act of 1990 is a viable, proven, practical and effective mechanism to achieve difficult but necessary goals and the Commission strongly recommends future BRACs every 8 to 12 years, immediately following a Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). The Commission recommends that the next round of BRAC formally begin in 2015 and has proposed legislative text in Appendix R for referral and consideration by Congress and the President.74
One of the significant problems when asking Congress to pass legislation to establish a BRAC round or set of rounds is that it becomes politically more and more difficult to accomplish. Following the 1995 round, there was general reluctance even to discuss BRAC in Congress due primarily to the political interference of the process by President Clinton to gain electoral votes in Texas and California.
Beginning in 1997, Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Carl Levin (D-MI) submitted BRAC amendments to DOD budget bills every year for five years before getting Congress to authorize just one more BRAC round. In 1997, they requested two rounds, one each in 1999 and 2001. As the years passed by without congressional approval, they were forced to change the proposed BRAC years to 2001 and 2003. Eventually, Congress passed legislation establishing just one BRAC round for 2005. Many members of Congress remained opposed to any more BRAC rounds after President Clinton left office because of widespread concerns from their constituents.75 Without permanent BRAC legislation, there is significant concern about when the next BRAC round following 2005 might be approved by Congress, if ever.
If the recommendation to complete the institutionalization of the BRAC process by making it permanent is accepted, then the timing of the commissions becomes an issue. Many factors must be considered when deciding the interval between BRAC rounds if the process is made permanent. A GAO report emphasized that long breaks between BRAC rounds resulted in the loss of institutional knowledge and experience in the BRAC process, particularly within DOD and the military Services. The recent 2005 BRAC Commission recommended conducting a BRAC round no earlier than every eight years.76 During the 1995 BRAC Commission hearings, Secretary of Defense William Perry recommended conducting BRAC rounds after DOD had absorbed the effects of the prior rounds, i.e., every three to four years. However, the Commission recommended basing the timing on the legislative requirement for DOD to complete all BRAC actions within six years of congressional approval of the list.77 Hence, the 1995 Commission recommended the next BRAC round be set for 2001.
The GAO, after reviewing the lessons learned from the first four BRAC rounds, based its timing recommendation on how long it takes to implement a follow-up round, noting that it takes some time to initiate and execute a typical BRAC round. First, it observed that over the history of BRAC rounds, it generally took at least 12 to 18 months advance time to plan a BRAC round. Secretary Rumsfeld noted that it took two and a half years for DOD to prepare the 2005 BRAC list for the commission to review.78 Of course, this did not include the time involved in convincing Congress to pass legislation authorizing a future BRAC round.79
The answer is within the boundaries of all these criteria. In order to ensure that a BRAC commission’s recommendations are implemented as intended, enough time should be allotted for implementation to properly gauge the results. This period seems to be at least four years, though DOD has six years to complete implementation of all BRAC recommendations (except those regarding environmental cleanup).80 However, it does not make sense for a congressional independent commission to be making infrastructure decisions for DOD before being provided with a comprehensive review of its forces and projected future threats, as encapsulated in a QDR. The 2005 BRAC Commission addressed the issue of BRAC timing in the future, and addressed the QDR in particular: “it would have been far preferable for the BRAC 2005 to have occurred after the new QDR so that the strategic underpinnings for nearly irreversible infrastructure and capacity changes could have been informed by the QDR’s output, rather than BRAC providing input to the QDR.”81 As a result, rather than providing oversight of DOD activities, Congress, through one of its chartered commissions, is essentially directing DOD on what its force posture will be as a function of its supporting infrastructure. This is clearly the opposite of what should happen. The 2005 BRAC Commission came to this conclusion, recommending that: “future BRAC rounds begin after the QDR is completed. Infrastructure decisions should flow from a strategic vision, not the other way around.”82
Independent commissions, such as the BRAC commissions, can and have evolved from federal government organizations into institutions as a result of their being reestablished periodically. Over the five BRAC iterations, the commissions became more complex, more aware of their role (i.e., sentient), more flexible in accommodating leadership and goal changes (i.e., evolving), and more essential for facilitating the downsizing of DOD. As such, the BRAC commission organization transformed into a government institution, but with one fatal flaw – it has no permanency.
Despite the announcements that this will be the last BRAC commission,83 there will likely be a requirement for BRAC commissions to facilitate military base closures and realignments for the foreseeable future. To optimize efficiency and effectiveness, Congress should pass legislation officially recognizing that BRAC commissions have become an essential institution in the federal government, and should be granted permanent status. Efficiency would be enhanced by having a continuous organization in place with the staff experience to execute a BRAC round. This basic capability (staff and infrastructure) would not need to be created from scratch as it is now. Effectiveness would be enhanced as a result of having staff continuity providing needed corporate knowledge of past lessons learned. Therefore, new legislation should provide for facilities, permanent staffing, and an annual budget for BRAC commissions, similar to other federal institutions. A BRAC permanent staff could remain gainfully employed by providing annual reports to the President and Congress on the status of BRAC recommendation implementation and cost savings accrued as a result. As well, such a staff of experts on the process could provide insights to any other branch of government faced with a similar imbalance between infrastructure and workforce. It could also prepare for the next BRAC round given that the QDR schedule is every four years. Hence, the two recommendations in this paper are: 1) the BRAC independent commission process should be made permanent by congressional legislation as soon as possible; and 2) all future BRAC commissions should be held within a year of the dissemination of any QDR report.84
If the BRAC process is tied to the QDR, then both processes would become more institutionalized and, hence, more effective. Retired Air Force General “Fig” Newton, one of the 2005 BRAC Commissioners, suggested that the Secretary of Defense be required to make a recommendation as part of any QDR report to Congress regarding the establishment of a BRAC Commission within two years following the QDR rather than it being an automatic requirement. He noted that DOD will probably take as much as two years to come up with base realignment and closure recommendations for each BRAC round in the future. As such, requiring a BRAC round following every QDR would essentially mean that DOD would be working on BRAC recommendations after every two years. He believed this to be unrealistic. Therefore, the compromise recommendation would be for the SecDef to decide as part of every QDR whether or not a new BRAC round was required.85 If the SecDef determined that the infrastructure-force size gap was too large, then his recommendation for another BRAC round would automatically trigger one following a QDR report. This is the natural evolution of the BRAC process and the required course of congressional action now.
|Colonel Stephen R. Schwalbe (PhD, Auburn University) became Director of the Air War College’s Regional Studies Program in August 2002. He is also a professor of Global Security and NSDM in the International Security Studies Department. He has recently served two tours of duty in the Defense Attache System as Air Attache to Korea (95-97) and to Jordan (00-02). Prior to that he served as an inspection director for the DOD Inspector General. Colonel Schwalbe graduated with distinction from the Naval War College in 1998, and with distinction from the Naval Postgraduate School in 1984. He was the Most Outstanding MPA Student at Golden Gate University in 1981. He is a 1977 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, Colorado.|
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
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