A bipartisan group of lawmakers is demanding that Pentagon officials move ahead with department-wide standards for how visitors can access military bases, work that was supposed to be completed more than four years ago.
The move has the potential to affect millions of individuals who access hundreds of sites around the globe annually. At present, the rules are a patchwork of different policies depending on which service runs the base, where the facilities are located and what extra requirements local commanders have decided to mandate.
Lawmakers say they want that simplified. In a letter to senior defense leaders sent May 19, the 12 Republican and Democratic lawmakers — a group led by Rep. Mark Alford, R-Mo., and including multiple members of the House Armed Services Committee — said changes are needed to ensure the safety of both troops stationed at sites and visitors with legitimate business on base.
“All of this has a profound impact on those with legitimate reasons to get on base, including military veterans seeking healthcare, Gold Star Families wanting to visit the gravesite of a loved one, household goods movers charged with relocating our troops, and truck drivers that deliver arms and ammunition, parcel packages, and food and retail goods that are destined for commissaries and exchanges,” the group wrote.
“Businesses especially are feeling the impact of the current approach, and some have already or are considering pulling back from serving the Defense Department as a customer due to the high level of difficulty.”
The issue of base access has surfaced repeatedly in recent years as issues like commissary access for veterans and support service expansion for military families have evolved. Most sites require military identification and a vehicle search before entry, though other entry requirements can vary significantly.
Defense officials had promised clarity on base access rules “in late 2018 or 2019″ in communications with Congress five years ago. But the final rules have yet to be announced.
The lawmakers also expressed concerns that military leaders will adopt new rules without any public review, potentially leading to confusion and frustration as visitors attempt to visit installations.
“Standards must be workable and structured to ensure that visitors can have a high level of confidence in compliance before they arrive at the gate,” they wrote. “After all this time, it would be a shame for the Department to publish something that simply does not work.”
Defense Department officials declined to comment on the letter, saying they would respond directly with the congressional offices involved.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army. He focuses on investigations, personnel concerns and military justice. Davis, also a Guard veteran, was a finalist in the 2023 Livingston Awards for his work with The Texas Tribune investigating the National Guard's border missions. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill.