BRAC Sparks A K Street Boom

(POLITICO 22 MAY 13) … Byron Tau

A new round of Pentagon base closures could be two years away — if at all — but it’s already got business booming on K Street.

This year’s Defense Department proposal to revive the Base Realignment And Closure process has prompted a spate of lobbying and consulting hires among the highly specialized firms that have emerged to cater specifically to BRAC clients.

States, coalitions and other stakeholders dedicated to keeping their local military facilities open — whenever the next round of Pentagon belt-tightening happens — are hiring lobbyists, mostly from a cadre of retired military officers and commissioners and their staffs from previous BRAC rounds.

In fact, BRAC lobbying has emerged as one of the bright spots on K Street, where new business and billings have been dropping from their 2010 high.

“With a decline in defense budgets, this is a growth area and firms will compete fiercely,” said veteran defense lobbyist Jeff Green.

Communities are wasting no time embarking on major advocacy campaigns designed to show the Pentagon and the next BRAC commission that their bases deserve to stay open. In many cases, entire local economies are built around these military facilities — giving local chambers of commerce, state and local governments, unions and others a major stake in helping present the base in the best light possible.

And in this situation, advocating early may be the most effective strategy, according to one of the top players in the game.

“The groundwork should be laid today, not after the BRAC list comes out,” said former Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi, who chaired the 2005 BRAC commission.

Principi, who heads his own firm specializing in the BRAC process, has also done consulting work — along with another big player in the BRAC space, the Spectrum Group — for Alabama, Virginia and Niagara County, N.Y. In the 2005 BRAC round, Spectrum represented 13 communities, with no closures.

Spectrum and Principi recently prepared analysis reports for both Virginia and Florida. In their report for Florida, Principi emphasized the importance of laying the groundwork early on BRAC issues.

If he were awarded the lobbying contract, Principi said “our team would still be able to discuss these matters with DoD and service leadership at a time when the DoD itself is still formulating its ideas and the direction it wants to proceed,” the cover letter to the consulting report concluded.

Principi successfully landed the state of Florida’s lobbying contract to help protect its military facilities from closure. For his services, lobbying disclosure records show the state paid his firm $72,000 in the first quarter of 2013.

Other big BRAC players include the Roosevelt Group, Atlantic Strategies Group, Cassidy & Associates and Hyjek and Fix. The firms are often staffed by veterans of the BRAC process — with help from plenty of former military officers and members of Congress from the relevant states.

Roosevelt managing partner Christopher Goode was director of administration for the 1995 BRAC commission, while Atlantic Strategies co-founder Cece Siracuse was director of congressional and intergovernmental affairs for the same commission.

Both Steven Hyjek and Donald Fix have experience working with Congress on base closure issues. Roosevelt represents an alliance dedicated to saving the Hampton Roads base in Virginia, while Atlantic Strategies Group has a Georgia BRAC client.

BRAC experts say the experience serving on previous BRAC commissions and bringing on consultants and staff who know both the Pentagon and the local communities is a big advantage over more generalized K Street firms.

“You want to make sure that you can get very close to these communities — explain to them what their vulnerabilities are,” said Roosevelt’s John Simmons. “You really got to commit yourself to the community.”

“This is not an issue that can be picked up and worked on by someone who does not understand this process or the needs of the communities,” Siracuse said. “The communities are looking for those who have been and are actively involved in the overall BRAC process.”

Still, the question looming over all the advocacy efforts is when the next round of BRAC actually take place.

President Barack Obama, in his fiscal 2014 budget proposal, is calling for another BRAC round in 2015 — but Congress hasn’t signed off, anxious to avoid the painful process of picking which military installations to shutter.

Lawmakers convened a pre-emptive hearing before the Pentagon’s budget was even released to make clear that they oppose BRAC. And asked last week how much appetite he and his colleagues had for BRAC, Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) answered with one word: “Zero.”

But the Pentagon — particularly the Air Force — is eager for cost-cutting measures and has been pushing for a realignment. Service leaders have estimated that more than 20 percent of their bases and real estate constitute “excess capacity.” And congressional opposition isn’t totally unanimous.

“As we restructure, reposition and redeploy our military, we should restructure the base infrastructure that supports it — both domestically and abroad — and provide the Department of Defense with the flexibility necessary to manage their reduced resources,” said a spokesman for Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee and one of the few members of Congress openly calling for the painful process.

Even so, close observers in the defense industry, encouraged by widespread congressional distaste for base closures or realignment, already view the prospect as unlikely for even 2015.

“Congress does not have any appetite for BRAC,” Principi said bluntly. “I think that the best option is for 2017.”

Ultimately, BRAC lobbying and base closures are unlikely to affect the wider defense industry.

“It is not a big world, and it is very specialized,” one top industry lobbyist noted about the world of BRAC lobbying.

The contractor world is equally indifferent to the process, which is unlikely to impact its bottom lines.

“Generally, industry lobbyists are agnostic about BRAC. Unless a BRAC necessitated a project or system being reduced or negatively affected, [we] should have no parochial concern,” another defense lobbyist said.

Austin Wright and Tim Mak contributed to this report.

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