Defense Budget

DOD officials push BRAC on Capitol Hill

soldiers folding base flag

Soldiers unfurl the colors of the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command at a ceremony Oct. 22, 2010, which marked the official arrival of CECOM to Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. from Fort Monmouth, N.J., part of the BRAC process begun in 2005. (Army photo)

Editor's note: This story was modified after its original publication to clarify the actual vs. projected costs of the 2005 BRAC effort.

Defense Department officials are asking Congress to approve a new round of base consolidations as yet another attempt to soften the blow of sequestration. The proposed DOD budget for fiscal 2014 includes the Base Realignment and Closure request.

BRAC was last implemented in 2005 – at a cost 67 percent higher than originally estimated -- to close some bases and consolidate operations.

The proposed next round of BRAC, which would begin in 2015, would give DOD much-needed flexibility in balancing budget cuts, reduced force structure and military infrastructure, John Conger, acting deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment, told a Senate Armed Services subcommittee on April 25.

"We need to find a way to strike the right balance so infrastructure does not drain too many resources from the warfighter," he said in testimony. "We need to be cognizant that maintaining more infrastructure than we need taxes other resources that the warfighter needs – from depot maintenance to training to bullets and bombs."

Conger did not specify how much BRAC 2015 could be expected to save the Pentagon, but he said the first five rounds of BRAC – which took place in 1988, 1991, 1993, 1995 and 2005 – continue to save the government upwards of $12 billion annually.

"While the primary function of BRAC is to match infrastructure to missions, it is also about trimming excess so that resources otherwise wasted on unnecessary facilities can be reapplied to higher priorities. Savings from BRAC are substantial," Conger testified.

Conger also noted that another round of BRAC could help the Pentagon achieve workforce efficiencies required by the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act. He pointed out that BRAC 2005 eliminated 13,000 civilian positions associated with closed facilities.

"Congress has already demanded these civilian personnel cuts, and if they are not made through BRAC, they will need to be made elsewhere," Conger stated. "The fundamental rationale for using the BRAC process to achieve these efficiencies is to enable DOD, an independent commission, the public, and Congress to engage in a comprehensive and transparent process to facilitate the proper alignment of our infrastructure with our mission."

The fiscal 2014 budget request includes $2.4 billion over the next five years for the next round of BRAC, although budget documents state the effort "would eventually save substantial sums."

"This process is an imperfect process, and there are upfront costs for BRAC," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in an April 10 press briefing. "This budget adds $2.4 billion over the next five years to pay for those costs. But in the long term, there are significant savings, as we've seen from past BRAC decisions."

Still, it faces an uphill battle in Congress, since the closures and job cuts can be politically poisonous. Earlier this month, Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Kelly Ayotte  (R-N.H.) issued a joint statement opposing another round of BRAC.

"The last BRAC round did not achieve the intended savings," the senators said. "Now is not the time to spend billions of dollars on another BRAC round, especially as the Department of Defense grounds combat aircraft, cancels ship deployments and furloughs workers due to sequestration."

Indeed, the 2005 BRAC effort cost $35 billion, well above the original projected cost of $21 billion, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Conger acknowledged those runaway costs in the April 24 hearing, where skeptical lawmakers raised questions about the potential for another snowball effect in spending on closures and construction.

"To be clear, BRAC 2015 will not look like BRAC 2005," Conger said, according to a DOD release. He noted that the last round of BRAC took place amid growth in force structure and budgets and mid-war transformation across DOD. "Today, force structure is shrinking, the budget is shrinking and we are firmly focused on reducing our future costs...I can assert with confidence that a 2015 round will have far more in common with [the first four rounds of BRAC] than it would with the 2005 round."

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

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