The debate over renaming military sites which honor Confederate leaders will return to Capitol Hill in coming weeks after defense officials said Congress needs to approve additional authorities allowing them to make those changes.
As part of legislative proposals sent to Capitol Hill this month connected to the fiscal 2023 budget request, Defense Department officials said they need new action by lawmakers to finalize the work of the Pentagon’s Confederate renaming commission, which was mandated by Congress two years ago.
“Although [previous legislation] contemplates that the commission may recommend that the defense secretary assign or modify names of real property, it does not authorize the secretary to implement those recommendations,” officials wrote. “Absent special legislation … this lack of clarity impedes the secretary’s ability to meet the obligation to implement the recommendations.”
Last month, commission members announced they had identified about 100 replacement names for nine Army posts originally named in honor of Confederate troops.
They include Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Rucker, Alabama; Fort Polk, Louisiana; Fort Benning and Fort Gordon in Georgia; and Fort A.P. Hill, Fort Lee and Fort Pickett in Virginia.
Potential replacement names would honor well-known military leaders, such as Dwight D. Eisenhower and Colin Powell, or specific soldiers recognized for heroism, like Roy Benavidez and Alwyn Cashe.
However, absent new legislation by Congress this year, service officials would only be able to remove the old names, not finalize the new ones.
That technical change could prompt another round of fierce political fighting in Congress later this year, as lawmakers work to craft the annual defense authorization bill for fiscal 2023.
The issue became a major point of friction between conservative Republicans backing then-President Donald Trump and Democratic lawmakers in 2020 before Congress ultimately authorized the renaming commission.
Trump and his supporters argued that military locations named for Confederate leaders had developed a history separate from their namesakes, and changing the names now would lead to confusion and frustration for members of the military.
But Democrats (and a number of Republicans who backed the idea) argued that honoring the Confederate leaders was racist and anti-American, and that better names could be found for the sites.
The commission members are currently meeting with affected installation leaders to discuss upcoming challenges and procedures, and will deliver a final list of recommended changes by Oct. 1. After that, the Army has another year to make the changes final.
Lawmakers have held several defense policy hearings already in anticipation of the release of their initial authorization bill drafts, expected later this spring.
The issue of the renaming commission was not brought up during Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s appearance before the House or Senate Armed Services Committees earlier this month.
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.