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During Congressional hearing, Rep. Owens and Army Secretary John McHugh talk BRAC (VIDEO)

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CANTON - After talking about the Base Realignment and Closure process with the Army’s secretary and chief of staff Thursday, Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said he still is not sold on the military’s plan for closures.

Talking with the Times by phone Friday afternoon, he said he wants more specificity in order to avoid a fight more dependant on political lobbying than the service’s needs.

“They need to lay out what the plan is in advance,” Mr. Owens said. “That means naming names, and saying we intend to decrease the size of facility A-B-C-D, and facilities E-F-G stay in place or grow.”

The speakers at the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee hearing Thursday were Army Secretary and north country native John M. McHugh and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno.

When Mr. Owens questioned him about whether Army realignments of soldiers indicate which locations the service thinks could be cut, Mr. McHugh turned the conversation to the 1995 closure of Plattsburgh Air Force Base.

“Well, having gone through a BRAC that close to your hometown, Plattsburgh, you can never tell, because Plattsburgh Air Force Base was closed in spite of the fact that the Air Force very much wanted to keep it,” he said. “So it’s not our intent to create a foregone conclusion.”

In recent years, Congress has rejected multiple Army requests for new base closures. The last BRAC round took place in 2005, with other rounds in 1995, 1993, 1991 and 1989.

Mr. McHugh said the Army currently spends about $500 million per year in what he calls an “empty facilities tax.”

That may increase in the future, consistent with reductions in the Army’s size. The Army currently is in the process of reducing its force from 520,000 soldiers to 490,000. The newly proposed 2015 budget plans on reducing that figure to between 440,000 and 450,000 soldiers, and that number could further fall to 420,000 in 2016 if sequestration returns at full levels.

“By definition, as fewer troops are in those buildings, more and more space will become excess,” Mr. McHugh said. “We want to minimize that.”

A new BRAC round, he said, would provide the most savings to the Army and be “the most sensible path to take.”

However, he told the House lawmakers, “we need your authorization to do that.”

Asked by Mr. Owens about what threats the military may face in the next three to five years, Gen. Odierno listed concerns with developments in the Middle East, central and northern Africa and the Korean peninsula.

Gen. Odierno also told Mr. Owens said the U.S. military may not have the full ability to deter future threats if deeper personnel reductions are made.

Video of the hearing can be seen at http://wdt.me/BwkNEr. Mr. Owens’s remarks start at about the 32:40 mark.

House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee hearing (Owens begins at 32:40)
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