The U.S. needs a civilian BRAC

May 31, 2012 |
Rob Cassidy

Quiz time: Phoenix is the country’s sixth-largest city, with 1,445,632 residents in 2010. Which of the following is number seven, with 1,327,407 population: San Jose, Calif.; San Antonio, Texas; Indianapolis; or Dallas? Did you say San Jose? Nah (#10). Indy? No way (#12). Dallas, right? Wrong again. It’s only #9.

Yes, the seventh-largest U.S. city––second only to Houston among Texas cities––is San Antonio. The Alamo City ranked 13th in 2000 (population:1,144,646), and much of its growth can be attributed to this four-letter acronym: BRAC, short for Base Realignment and Closure.

BRAC has been one of the most clever and successful government initiatives of recent memory. It got rid of thousands of unneeded and wasteful Pentagon-owned properties, consolidated operations in key nodes (like San Antonio), improved Defense Department efficiencies, and saved taxpayers billions of dollars.

It did this by eliminating logrolling, that expensive (to taxpayers) practice whereby Congressperson #1 votes for Congressperson #2’s bridge to nowhere, in return for #2’s vote in favor of #1’s highway-to-heaven boondoggle.

To get rid of logrolling, BRAC set up an independent commission to determine (after exhaustive public hearings) which military bases would be closed and which would receive further investment. The BRAC Commission then sent its list to Congress for––and this is the truly brilliant part––an up-or-down vote on the whole list. No negotiating, no logrolling. Take it or leave it, Members of Congress.

Since the late 1980s, BRAC has enabled the closing of hundreds of redundant or underused military bases and facilities, along with substantial investment in places like San Antonio.

Now it’s time to apply the same thinking to the 12,000 excess and 50,000 underused properties owned by the civilian arm of the federal government.

The idea of divesting wasteful government properties is one of the few concepts that seems to have some degree of bipartisan support in Washington. A Republican-sponsored measure, the Civilian Property Realignment Act, has already been approved in the House, 259 to 164. “Redevelopment and consolidation of vacant and unneeded federal property is a commonsense way to eliminate waste and save taxpayer dollars,” said Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), the bill’s sponsor.

The White House has its own scheme to trim $8 billion in costs for 12,218 excess properties, a third of which (4,140) belong to the Agriculture Department. The Navy holds 2,519 such properties, while Interior has 2,109.

The General Services Administration, the civilian branch’s landlord, has already shed many of its 137 properties on the White House list, including the historic Old Post Office Pavilion on Pennsylvania Avenue, which Donald Trump plans to turn into a 250-unit luxury hotel.

There are structural differences between Denham’s plan and the White House’s, but the point is that there is a modicum of agreement inside the Beltway on the basic need for “CRAC”––Civilian Realignment and Closure. In a presidential election year, that’s pretty remarkable.

A civilian BRAC would open the door for more rational investment of taxpayer dollars in civilian construction projects. With BRAC as a model, the federal government could target key cities––El Paso, Texas, is already being discussed––for significant civilian investment. As was the case with the Defense BRAC, a federal CRAC could be a potential boon for many AEC firms. +

Rob Cassidy | Building Team Blog

Robert Cassidy is Executive Editor of Building Design+Construction. A city planner, he is the author of several books, including “Livable Cities,” and was a co-founder of the Friends of the Chicago River.

Related Blogs

Lissette Méndez-Boyer (left) and Natalya Shimanovskaya work on their FABRICation project at Beyer Blinder Belle’s New York office. Photo courtesy BBB

September 06, 2016 | AEC Tech | Building Team Blog

AEC firms are taking a page from the tech industry, by infusing a deep commitment to innovation and disrupt...

Intel Co-founders (l. to r.): Andrew Grove, Robert Noyce, and Gordon Moore. Photo: Wikimedia Commons   

June 27, 2016 | AEC Tech | Building Team Blog

“Sooner or later, something fundamental in your business world will change.” The late Andrew Grove (1936-20...

Photo: Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Corey Lewis , U.S. Navy, via Wikimedia Commons; photo filter via

May 31, 2016 | AEC Tech | Building Team Blog

As buildings become increasingly connected, opportunistic hackers have countless avenues into a building’s...

Lexus RX 450h self-driving car. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

May 09, 2016 | AEC Tech | Building Team Blog

Despite popular belief, the country is not in a great age of technological and digital innovation, at least...

Deep Learning + AI: How machines are becoming master problem solvers

The world’s top Go player Lee Sedol puts the first stone against Google’s artificial intelligence program AlphaGo during the third match of the Google DeepMind Challenge match in Seoul, South Korea. Photo: Reuters/Google/Yonhap

March 31, 2016 | AEC Tech | Building Team Blog

Besides revolutionary changes to the world’s workforce, artificial intelligence could have a profound impac...

Yotel, New York City. Photo: JasonParis, flickr creative commons

March 09, 2016 | Hotel Facilities | Building Team BlogRobert Cassidy, Executive Editor

Hotels are going for a new minimalist look to attract younger guests, but some older business travelers don...

Is the booming freelance economy a threat to AEC firms?

Photo: Pixabay

February 24, 2016 | Architects | Building Team Blog

By shifting the work (and revenue) to freelancers, “platform capitalism” startups have taken considerable m...

How the Fourth Industrial Revolution will alter the globe’s workforce

Photo: Pixabay

January 26, 2016 | BIM and Information Technology | Building Team Blog

The next great technological metamorphosis will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before, due to...

Potential vs. credential: How men and women differ in career progress

Courtesy Pixabay

January 05, 2016 | Architects | Building Team BlogDavid Barista, Editorial Director

Recent research suggests that women face yet another career impediment: the confidence gap.

Meet the world’s next great construction superpower

Photo: Wili Hybrid via Wikimedia Commons 

December 23, 2015 | Industry Research | Building Team Blog

There’s a new world construction hotbed coming down the pike (more specifically, the Mumbai Nashik Expressw...

Add new comment

Your Information
Your Comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
Refresh Type the characters you see in this picture. Type the characters you see in the picture; if you can't read them, submit the form and a new image will be generated. Not case sensitive.  Switch to audio verification.
Overlay Init