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."

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Reader comments

Wed, Feb 26, 2014 Bridgette Davidson Texas

There are many installations that have closed due the need of restructuring. Since BRAC 2005, and paying attention to base closures, I have become interested in restoration. My suggestion: To utilized closed bases as retirement communities. The veteran population, those that are victims of continuous psychological abuse, is in need of a safe place, that will allow to continue with on with their lives (high functioning, educated, and professional), preventing forced socio- economic deprivation. Please advise, and refer to appropriate parties that may be interested in the above suggestion. Further, providing advice as it is requested. Thank you! Note: This conversation has been shared with one person...Now, many. Contact: 254 781 2090

Sun, Jun 16, 2013

These comments against Aberdeen PG are exaggerated at best. The noise issue is infrequent and seldom. The cost to clean up the base is prohibitively expensive for DoD and there is no "danger to the population". Forcing thousands of people to have to relocate again with 5-6 years? The resulting outrage would be dangerous, as well as to the economy there. Don't push it.

Fri, Jun 14, 2013 Jeff Downing

Per the APG assessor, I doubt your environmental interests are genuine and you really are looking at your own base’s self interests. You do know that if APG closed, DoD would be responsible for cleaning it up to return to the community – at a prohibitively high expense with funds they don’t have. Only one portion of the base deals with chemical ordnance development and testing. Noise pollution, incessant? Maybe at most 3 days/month an occasional blast. The county would be in more danger economically from it closing; now that would be devastating.. Remote areas? Oh that will attract top R&D talent or perhaps robots will do all that I suppose. Come live in some blighted area where there’s nothing to do. APG may not be a bustling metropolis, but it’s better than what you have in mind.
APG has been around for 96 years. If it was a danger to the community, it would have been deemed as such a long time ago and closed.

Mon, Apr 29, 2013 Walter Washington, DC

We should start by cutting any base that has been justified solely by the economic impact to the community, such as Grotton, Conn. The base supports Diesel subs and training for the same. We are still purchasing these small and old style subs to keep Bath Ironworks open and to keep the only manufacturing industy in Connecticut alive, as well as parts manufacturers in key congressional districts around the country. They could move all these subs down to Georgia with the nuclear subs and they would do very well. Much of what was done on the last BRAC was to consolidate functions between the services. The merger of Walter Reed and Bethesda is a good example of this. BuMed is now a purple organization with no barrier between services. Most basic training between services has also been consolidated. They share bombing ranges and bases. Right now we are leasing out parts of some of our bases to contractors so they can get cheaper rent than if they were outside the fence and because we have so many unused buildings. The DoD is still maintaining Recreational Centers from WWI, when they are now only a couple miles from privately owned campgrounds and public parks. We have bases that are half empty. Even with the minimal demolition done on the last BRAC, it has been paid off by savings for at least 2 years now.

Mon, Apr 29, 2013 Walter Washington, DC

I wish they would stop bringing up the 2005 BRAC, they hardly closed any bases. Most of the money was spent on reallignments and putting whole battle units in one place. Most of the savings were in travel and training expenses. The first 3 rounds of BRAC were all paying for themselves before they were even completed. I was reading about a base last week where only on third of the buildings are even in use anymore. DoD has two choices for cutting long term costs. One is closing bases so they can cancel maintenance contracts and lay off thousands of facilities personnel. The other is to end weapons programs, and cancelling billions in contracts. On top of that they have to control their healthcare costs before they totally swamp the DoD budget. Anything less and in 10 to 15 years the DoD will be nothing but a large welfare program.

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