Lobbyists whose clients are keeping a close watch on this year’s Base Realignment and Closure Commission are gearing up for a week that includes the release of the long-awaited list of bases that the Pentagon wants to close.
Then, starting May 16, the action will move to the newly minted BRAC, which plans to hold four days of hearings, including one on Monday with the Defense secretary.
According to several sources, Pentagon officials briefed Capitol Hill aides May 9 on how this week will unfold.
One source familiar with the Hill briefing said that Dan Stanley, the acting assistant secretary of Defense for Congressional affairs, told legislative branch staffers that “the list is most likely to be rolled out on Friday.” He also said that each Congressional office will receive an e-mail from the Pentagon around 9:15 a.m. on Friday with information on how the BRAC will affect installations in their state.
At the same time, Defense officials will deliver hard copies of the full list and shortly after, the list will appear on the Defense Department Web site.
The Pentagon is expected to hold a press conference Friday morning.
Jeffrey Lane, a lobbyist at Womble Carlyle Sandridge and Rice, represents clients in North Carolina that have local military bases. For now, he says, he’s just waiting to see the list.
“The information that we needed to get to the Pentagon was conveyed at least weeks ago, and some cases months ago,” said Lane, who added that North Carolina Lt. Gov. Beverly Purdue (D) had meetings with Pentagon officials. “You really needed to get that done long before this week.”
Depending on the contents of the list, Lane says, he will work with his clients and the BRAC as commission officials plan trips to bases that could be closed or could add or lose missions.
“You’ll see members of the commission go to the affected communities, so that’s an opportunity to make a direct case. … I think everybody is anxious at this point because nothing can be known for sure,” he said.
Other lobbyists will be doing the same thing.
“You’ve got to start poring over the data [and] find out if there are any holes in the department’s decision,” said lobbyist and former BRAC staffer Cece Siracuse of Hurt Norton & Associates. After that, she said, “you’ll put your case together with that data to challenge a decision.”
For bases that receive bad news from the list, it’s an uphill battle, said Paul Hirsch of Madison Government Affairs.
“Although it’s only four months, it’s a long journey,” he said. “You have to review the recommendations and put a strategy together as to why the secretary of Defense erred. You start doing that as soon as the list comes out.”
The Pentagon has had years to run the data and put the list together. So, Hirsch said, “we have to marshal all our forces in the community.”
But it’s not easy to challenge a decision. To get a base off a list, a community must show that the Pentagon “deviated substantially” from the eight selection criteria or from the military’s 20-year force structure plan. To put a base on the closure list also will require the votes of seven of the nine commissioners.
Even if clients end up on the winning end of the list, lobbyists say that doesn’t mean they can ignore the commission.
“I think, quite frankly, it’s easy for people to assume if you’re not on the list you’re OK, but you’re not,” said David Berteau, a lobbyist at Clark and Weinstock who served as a senior BRAC official inside the Pentagon during the 1991 and 1993 rounds.
The process until this point has been secretive even by BRAC standards: Pentagon officials working on the recommendations had to sign non-disclosure forms. By contrast, the commission holds public hearings.
“When the Department of Defense is doing its process and collecting data, analyzing it and creating scenarios, there’s a lot of things that are run up the flagpole and looked at, and most of them don’t happen. If it was an open process at that point, it would get everyone all concerned,” said Hirsch. “After the list and report is given, then everything the Pentagon looked at is available. It’s kind of like an appeals process after the verdict has come in.”
The liaison between Capitol Hill and the BRAC will be Christine Hill, a military legislative aide to Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), who plans to leave Dole’s office to take the position.
Lobbyists with clients in the BRAC field say they don’t expect an uptick in business after the list comes up. But advocates who work with closed bases on redevelopment plans see this week as the beginning of their boom time.
Robert Gillcash of McKenna Long and Aldridge, who handled BRAC issues for Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) during a previous round, is one. He doesn’t represent any BRAC clients. He focuses, instead on plan B — life after closure.
“For those communities that have found themselves in that situation, it is unlikely that they will come off the list, and we want to help get private sector groups … and other nonprofits to come up with a plan B” for the base’s redevelopment.
Gillcash says his practice has already received significant inquiries from communities and from the private sector. “For those bases that find themselves looking for a plan B, it’s time to move,” he said. “You can’t spend a year or two not thinking about it.”
Tom Markham, president of the Association of Defense Communities, said his group advises communities on how to react to closures.
“We understand that communities fight the closures, but historically only about 10 percent get removed from the list. We encourage them to also be doing their planning as to life after closure,” he said.