25 August 2005

Base Ignorance

The Base Realignment and Closure Commission has voted to close Walter Reed Army Medical Center in DC (and, not incidentally, move 20,000 or so personnel from rented space inside the Beltway elsewhere). It's about time.

Walter Reed is a perfect example of that interservice rivalry problem I alluded to on Tuesday. The DC area does not need both Walter Reed and Bethesda.1 (The Army needs Walter Reed's expertise, particularly in tropical medicine… just not in DC.) Of course, the facility at Walter Reed, if appropriately vacated, could house some of those 9,000 office workers being displaced from exorbitant leases; but that kind of coordination might be expecting too much. That the DC government would rather have Walter Reed redeveloped as tax-paying office space seems rather shortsighted in the national sense—or, rather, NIMBYish: If those workers are moved out of leased office space in Crystal City, onto military bases, somebody's local property-tax base is going to get eroded. Maybe what this really emphasizes is that property taxes are not the smartest basis for taxation…

In any event, the BRAC deserves thanks for grasping some very difficult matters and actually making decisions regarding them. It's a sad commentary on partisan politics and the two-party system that entrenches incumbents that a BRAC is even necessary, particularly in the face of the constitutional skepticism of long-term military expenditures.

  1. I was treated at both facilities while stationed in DC; the Air Force hospital at Andrews AFC simply did not have some of the specialists needed. The experience at Bethesda was a lot more pleasant… even if, in the end, equally unhelpful. Admittedly, this was a decade and a half ago, but bureaucratic inertia inside the Beltway makes substantial change unlikely.