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Pentagon to Congress: We Need Base Closures

April 15, 2016 (Photo Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

This story, originally published at 12:59 p.m., was updated to include comments from House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry.

WASHINGTON — Pentagon officials say the Defense Department is wasting money on excess facilities and needs Congress to step in and close them, but they face an uphill fight.

Pointing to 22 percent excess capacity across DoD, a senior Pentagon official is urging lawmakers to consider a new round of the politically unpopular Base Realignment and Closures process, known by the acronym BRAC. According to a DoD report to Congress on the need for BRAC, the Army’s excess capacity is 33 percent; the Air Force's is 32 percent; the Defense Logistics Agency's is 12 percent, and the Navy's is 7 percent.

“As Department of Defense leadership has repeatedly testified, spending resources on excess infrastructure does not make sense,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work said in an April 12 letter that accompanies the report. “Therefore, we urge Congress to provide the Department authorization for another round of BRAC. Our recently submitted BRAC legislative proposal responds to congressional concerns regarding cost.” 

The letter was made public Friday, days after Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management said she will not include the authority to conduct a BRAC round in her subcommittee’s mark of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. She said that amid tight DoD budgets, the military cannot afford BRAC, whose costs ballooned 67 percent during the last round, in 2005. 

“I do not want to give the department the open-ended authority to pursue another BRAC round that will potentially incur significant upfront costs when we do not have the room in our budget in the next few years to afford many fundamental readiness investments that are right before us,” Ayotte, R-N.H., said in an April 12 hearing.

The subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, Sen. Tim Kaine, backing Ayotte's decision, called BRAC a “massive lobbyist and lawyer effort” that’s parochial and unnecessary. He said he would like to see a better way of rationalizing DoD infrastructure.  

The SASC's version of the 2017 defense policy bill must be reconciled with its House counterpart. A BRAC advocate on the HASC — its ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Smith, of Washington — hailed the DoD report. In a statement Friday, Smith said saving money by closing unneeded facilities will provide more for national security.   

“This report makes clear that DoD maintains a large amount of infrastructure that it does not need,” Smith said. “Disposing of excess infrastructure through a transparent, deliberative and independent process, such as another round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), can be done in a responsible manner hat enhances military readiness and frees up funds that can be used to strengthen our military in other ways.”

The powerful House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, did not condemn BRAC itself, but blasted the report as unequal to its mandate under the 2016 defense policy bill. The report came two months late and used a projected force size for 2019, and not the proscribed 2012 size, Thornberry said. 

"The capacity report the Pentagon belatedly delivered to Congress simply doesn’t tell us what we need to know," Thornberry said in a statement. "In envisioning a military far smaller than anyone thinks is wise, it fails to comply with the law as badly as it fails to justify a BRAC round."

While military leaders condemn planned force cuts, planning around them, "makes no sense," Thornberry said. "It would lock in a future where our stressed military becomes permanently gutted."

Work’s call comes a month after DoD officials offered in Congressional testimony that DoD could save as much as 25 percent savings in some missions, and that a closing round in 2019 would save about $2 billion annually.

In recent congressional testimony, Pentagon officials made their fifth request for another BRAC round. At the House Appropriations Military Construction Subcommittee last month, lawmakers responded with skepticism and invoked problems with the 2005 round, which was considered the largest, most complex and costliest since the first in 1988.

In Work's letter this week, he argued DoD’s recently submitted BRAC proposal answers lawmakers’ concerns, aiming to yield a net savings within five years and limit recommendations that take longer than 20 years to implement. He acknowledged “socioeconomic impacts” of such closures, but argued as unpalatable as they are, the best course is to target them through the BRAC process.

“Under current fiscal restraints, local communities will experience economic impacts regardless of a congressional decision regarding BRAC authorization,” Work's letter said. “This has the harmful and unintended consequence of forcing the Military Departments to consider cuts at all installations, without regard to military value. A better alternative is to close or realign installations with the lowest military value.”

“Without BRAC, local communities' ability to plan and adapt to these changes is less robust and offers fewer protections than under BRAC law. Further, because the cost of operating installations is relatively fixed, the magnitude of savings from efficiency measures are less than that from closing a base," the letter said.  

DoD completed its last BRAC round in 2005, and in the interim, major force reductions began. DoD’s report argues it has been 14 years since Congress authorized the DoD to conduct a BRAC round and 12 years since it conducted a thorough analysis of its capacity.

Army personnel will shrink to 450,000 from 570,000; Marine Corps personnel will decline from 202,000 to 182,000. Since 2005, the Air Force has already reduced its force structure by eliminating 500 aircraft from its inventory and 50,000 personnel, and the Navy has already reduced its force structure by eliminating I carrier and 36,000 personnel. 

Email: jgould@defensenews.com | amehta@defensenews.com

Twitter: @reporterjoe | @AaronMehta

 

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