Monday, May 12, 2014

DOD Needs New Base Closure Round, Senior Official Says

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 12, 2014 – The Defense Department is calling on Congress to authorize another round of base realignments and closures because of excess capacity that is cutting into funding for troop readiness and other higher priority needs, a senior DOD official said.

“We cannot afford to waste money on infrastructure that essentially taxes the warfighters for the readiness funds they need,” John Conger, the acting deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment, told American Forces Press Service in an interview.

The department is asking for another BRAC round in 2017. “The department is facing resource problems and we are being forced to consider significant force structure reductions,” Conger said. “That exacerbates the situation we already have with excess infrastructure.”

For the last three years, he said, DOD has requested BRAC authority and Congress has rejected it every time. “As time goes on, our budget problems get worse, our force structure reductions get more significant and more near term,” Conger said.

The reception for BRAC on the Hill was chilly. “I understand why Congress isn’t excited about this,” Conger said. “Setting aside parochial concerns … they have talked about the cost of the last BRAC round.”

Announced in 2005, the last BRAC round cost $35 billion to accomplish -- a huge sum compared to previous rounds, Conger said. It will save on a recurring basis $4 billion a year. Congress asserts it doesn’t save enough.

Conger maintains it is unfair to focus on that round since roughly half of its recommendations dealt with changes for transformational purposes. This included consolidating similar functions and moving people, he said, where it made sense for them to be.

“Those recommendations cost $29 billion to execute and only resulted in $1 billion in savings,” Conger said.

The rest of the recommendations in the 2005 round were intended to save money. They cost $6 billion and resulted in $3 billion per year in recurring savings.

“The conclusion we have reached is when we are trying to save money, we can,” Conger said. “What we’re seeing this year is Congress is at least willing to engage in a discussion about it.”

While the initial mark-up for the National Defense Authorization Bill has not authorized a new BRAC round, it does include a requirement to do a force structure study, an infrastructure analysis, and for secretary of defense certification for a need for a BRAC round. All these are required to do a BRAC.

“They have given us the preamble pieces,” Conger said. “All of which take time and if we execute them, all will allow a BRAC authorization on a shorter timetable.”

Conger says studies show a BRAC round in 2017 would cost $6 billion to implement. Then, recurring savings would be on the order of $2 billion per year.

If the department does not get a BRAC round, Conger said some bases will not have the units or number of people they once had. “You will inevitably have emptier bases,” he said.

These communities conceivably could end up with “a plot of land in proximity to your base that does not generate the economic benefit that it used to, and it’s not taxable, and you can’t do economic development on that base,” Conger said. “You have an economic black hole in the middle of your community that was once a source of pride.”

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