ALEXANDRIA, Va. - Military experts inside and outside the Pentagon agree that widespread funding problems for weapons, spares, ammunition and training plague our armed forces.
Yet in an age where economic security and national security go hand in hand, taxpayers expect fiscally responsible solutions to fund these shortfalls in defense spending.
The good news is that President Bush proposed just such a solution recently: form another Base Realignment and Closure commission to close obsolete military bases throughout the United States, and put the substantial cost savings to work for service people instead of special interests.
The bad news? Congress has yet to show sufficient support for the idea.
No mother or father should have to worry that a son or daughter in America's armed forces may not come home alive because he or she isn't adequately trained and equipped.
The answer is more funding for operations and maintenance, procurement and readiness. But the American taxpayer has every right to demand that any savings that can be reached through increased efficiency be put toward funding shortfalls before they open up their wallets.
This is where BRAC comes in. The first BRAC commission was launched when it was determined that the military had significantly more infrastructure than it needed.
The commission produced a list of unnecessary bases whose closure would save the military billions of dollars. In all there have been four rounds of BRAC, saving the U.S. military - and taxpayers - an estimated $26 billion through 2003 and close to $6 billion a year after that.
Yet even after these tried-and-true measures have been taken, the Department of Defense believes it still has 20 percent to 25 percent more capacity than needed. Another BRAC round would eliminate these excess installations, free up billions of dollars badly needed for training, equipment, ammunition and the next generation of weapons systems, and do so without unnecessarily imposing on the American taxpayer.
So who could possibly be against such a win-win proposition? Try members of Congress, many of whom mistakenly view military bases as prime cuts of pork.
In reality, the facilities are often little more than excess fat endangering our military's health and our nation's wealth. The thought of eliminating such an electoral perk is more than the average representative and senator can stomach.
That is why the original BRAC commission was formed, to take the decision out of the hands of lawmakers. Their only choice would be to vote down the entire list of bases chosen - no backroom politics could take place.
While most of them won't admit it, lawmakers tend to object to another BRAC round because of the unfounded fear it will cost jobs in their districts.
Yet past experiences with base closures demonstrate that Americans would applaud, not punish, BRAC supporters.
Affected communities have been extremely successful in converting the bases into civilian uses, creating new jobs to replace the ones eliminated. In Charleston, S.C., 23 major new entities have inhabited the former Navy facilities and created more than 3,300 private-sector jobs.
The next BRAC would give the Pentagon up to six years to complete each closure or consolidation - more than enough time for localities to make the economically beneficial transitions that have repeatedly occurred under previous rounds.
By proposing another BRAC round, President Bush has fulfilled two leadership roles - a commander in chief of the armed forces who also takes seriously the adage that the taxpayer's buck definitely stops at his desk.
It's time for Congress to follow this act of political courage with one of its own - by passing another BRAC round this fall.
Eric V. Schlecht is director of congressional relations for the National Taxpayers Union.