Pentagon Officials: We Need More Base Closures

(STARS AND STRIPES 12 MAR 14) … Jennifer Hlad

Each military branch has excess capacity and needs another round of base realignment and closure, defense officials told a House panel Wednesday.

Appearing before the House Appropriations Committee’s Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Subcommittee, officials noted varying amounts of excess capacity on U.S. bases, and sought help.

“The bottom line is: We need another round of BRAC,” said Kathleen Ferguson, acting assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and logistics.

John Conger, acting deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment, said he knows the last round of BRAC, in 2005, left “a bad taste” in the mouths of many in Congress, but that this would be different. The key reason that one cost so much was that “we were willing to accept recommendations that did not save money,” he said.

The 2005 round of BRAC was actually more like two concurrent rounds – one for transformation and one for efficiency, Conger said.

Altogether, the BRAC cost about $35 billion, and $29 billion of that was for the transformation piece, which only resulted in about $1 billion in yearly savings, Conger said. The efficiency piece cost $6 billion and resulted in recurring savings of $3 billion each year, he said.

Now, the military is requesting just the “efficiency” piece, Conger said.

“We don’t want to be wasting money on unneeded facilities,” he said.

The Army has an average of 18 percent excess capacity at U.S. bases, according to a recent facility capacity analysis, and end-strength reductions will increase that excess capacity even more, said Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment.

The Air Force does not have a recent capacity analysis, but had 24 percent excess capacity in 2004, Ferguson said. The last round of BRAC only helped with a very small portion of that extra space, and the Air Force has reduced active-duty end strength by nearly 8 percent since then, she said, so officials know there is plenty of excess that could be closed.

The Navy also doesn’t have a recent analysis, but does know they have some excess capacity and supports a new round of BRAC, said Dennis McGinn, assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations and environment.

Still, members of the committee noted their displeasure with the 2005 BRAC process, and worried that the Pentagon is not budgeting enough for military construction in fiscal 2015.

The military construction request for fiscal 2015 is $6.6 billion, about 40 percent lower than the request for fiscal 2014.

“I haven’t seen requests this low for a long, long time,” said Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., the ranking member of the committee.

Conger, Ferguson, Hammack and McGinn said the smaller request is the result of efforts to meet the requirements of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013; they said the services are willing to take a risk in cutting facilities maintenance so they can use more funding to support warfighters.

But Rep. John Culberson, the Texas Republican who serves as the subcommittee’s chairman, called the low number “shocking,” and said he does not want troops and their families to be neglected.

“We love you and we want to help,” he said, adding that the committee would try to find a way to fund maintenance and construction programs.

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