The director of the state office of military affairs and a former congressman said Thursday they believe another round of military base reviews will occur, and local leaders should prepare now.
“It’s not a question of if, it’s when,” said Bob Ross, executive director of the Connecticut Office of Military Affairs. “There will be a future BRAC.”
BRAC stands for Base Realignment and Closure Commission, and the defense department said recently it would request base reviews in 2013 and 2015. The commission makes recommendations about which bases should close.
Former Congressman Rob Simmons said he is sure one will go through.
“In Washington, if you want something, you ask for two, and you get one,” he said. “We’re going to get one, I’m certain of that.”
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, Sen. Joe Lieberman, Sen. Richard Blumenthal released a joint statement after the announcement of a possible BRAC calling the proposal “dead on arrival.” Congress must authorize a review before it can occur.
But Courtney said Thursday he believes Groton and other local leaders should heed the advice of Anthony Principi, chairman of the commission, and “assume that nothing is safe and start preparing now.”
Ross, Simmons and Courtney spoke before a meeting of the Subase Coalition, a group organized many years ago to prevent the closure of the sub base. About 30 people from the group met Thursday at Fort Trumbull in New London.
If Submarine Base New London ends up on closure list, it would be the third time. Groton’s sub base was targeted for partial closure in 1993 and total closure in 2005, but congressional leaders and the local community organized and prevented the cuts.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced last month that the president would request authorization from Congress for another round of reviews.
The Pentagon has not submitted authorization language to Congress, and it could be mid March before they do, Courtney said. Traditionally, the House adopts a defense authorization bill, which would include a BRAC if it were to occur, before Memorial Day. Courtney said the plan is to stay on that schedule.
Simmons said the area should be prepared for a fight. He recalled begging for votes the last time around.
“It was shameful,” he said, adding, “We worked hard and we did everything. And we busted our butts and we worked as a team, but we nearly lost it.”
This time will be harder, he said. He said the base has fewer submarines than it had in 2005, there’s been a shift from East Coast to West Coast bases, and two other bases in the east - in Norfolk, Va., and Kings Bay, Ga. - will not close.
Simmons added that two wars are winding down, there are fiscally conservative people in congress, and Connecticut lost two longtime senators, and with it, some political clout.
“So we have some problems. What do we need to do? We need people who know how to do this…. We need leadership. From the top. We need money for professional help. And we need it now. Not later,” he said.
Ross said the challenge is to “influence this process at the beginning and not at the end.”
He said the area has some advantages it didn’t have in 2005, including the investment of $150 million in new facilities and two years of being named a top base in the mid-Atlantic region. The base also has close ties to Electric Boat and the underwater labs in Newport Rhode Island, and can argue the importance of these relationships, he said.
Ross said the defense secretary and Secretary of the Navy have also been to Groton and held up Electric Boat as a model, which gives it leverage.