Brownb[r]ack's big idea
Right now Sen. Brownback is speaking in the Senate, discussing his idea of a BRAC-style commission for civilian spending. It's an excellent idea. The Base Realignment and Closure Commission has worked well as a procedure
by taking the responsibility for cuts out of the hands and out of the voting records of Congressmen.
Before BRAC, it was impossible to close any bases because each representative stoutly defended everything in his district and traded favors with others to keep everything running. With BRAC, the decisions are made by others and each rep is distanced from the responsibility of closing a local job-source. Communities still put tremendous effort into lobbying for their bases, and this lobbying is more like true representation than anything ever done by Congress. The commission tries to measure genuine community support when making its decisions. When Congress makes a decision, community support is drowned out by irrelevant concerns like personal seniority and power. An old power-broker like Byrd or Kennedy was able to keep every base in his state running, even when the locals didn't want or need them.
I emphasize as a procedure
because, as I've said many times in many ways,
closing military bases is simply an atrocious, stupid, and self-destructive practice no matter how you organize it legislatively.
Two main reasons:
1. The concept of Efficiency simply cannot be applied to defense. The best defense is an infinitely inefficient
one. If you spend huge amounts of money on fortifications, walls, tanks, bombs, and soldiers, and you constantly show that all those objects are ready to rumble at a moment's notice, prospective enemies will look elsewhere. The spending will thus be totally useless and totally inefficient by a commercial-style accounting, because no attack will ever occur, and the equipment and soldiers will never be used. This is the ideal
When we follow Rumsfeld's bean-counting industrial model, maintaining just enough equipment and soldiers for current needs, we will be unprepared and enemies will accurately view us as unprepared. The few soldiers will then have to fight like hell with inadequate equipment. (Sound familiar?)
2. Because America is now thoroughly settled and urbanized, and mainly because of EPA rules and NIMBY effects, losing a military base is totally irreversible. There is simply no way we can rebuild any of these huge and specialized facilities under current restrictions. Even if the purpose of some facility seems obsolete at the moment, it's still worth keeping as a storehouse of NIMBY-proof square miles and buildings.
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However! Even though the BRAC method is bad for military facilities, it would be grand when applied to civilian facilities and programs. In the civilian parts of government, Efficiency is definitely meaningful, because each program or agency is meant to accomplish a positive goal; and none of the civilian facilities are unique or irreplaceable. Any old office building will do.
So Brownback's proposal is excellent, but I'd be inclined to advocate it from a different angle. I wouldn't say that BRAC is a success and should be extended to civilian programs; I'd say that the BRAC method needs to be moved over
to civilian programs!