Another bunch of surplus American military bases are about to be closed. Getting rid of unneeded military bases is a difficult process. This is because local politicians are held accountable by the voters when a base is closed (and lots of local jobs are lost.) But it costs the Department of Defense billions of dollars a year to maintain bases that are no longer needed. After the Cold War ended in 1991, the military shed a third of its manpower, but has only been able to close about twenty percent of the bases for these troops. Congress recognized the problem years ago and developed a process that took legislators off the hook somewhat for local bases getting closed. Basically, the Department of Defense presents a list, members of Congress go through the motions of fighting it, and then vote to accept or refuse the entire list. The list is compiled so that enough members of Congress are not affected and can vote to approve the closings. The most recent times this process took place were in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995. In the last nine years, Congress has been reluctant to do it again (because of the voter backlash.) But the military has made the case that the money saved can be better used to improve living conditions for the troops, so another list is being compiled. The last four closings saved $17 billion immediately, and up to $7 billion a year since. The 2004 closings will be larger, and include a lot of bases overseas. This is causing diplomatic repercussions, as nations like Germany desperately try to avoid more job losses in an economy already suffering from high and persistent unemployment.
The base closings also include the consolidation of activities in fewer, larger, bases. This is a key element in the Department of Defenses new policy of keeping troops at the same base for longer periods (up to seven years.) This brings additional savings of billions of dollars a year and improved morale. This element will help in the Pentagon's push to shut down a large number of bases this time around.
Ironically, most of the bases closed left the surrounding communities better off. When the bases were converted to commercial uses, more and better jobs were brought into the area, and the entire operation was taxable (as the military bases are not.)