A Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round in 2017 will help DoD ensure that DoD “does not drain resources from the warfighter” to fund unneeded infrastructure, Acting Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Installations and Environment) John Conger told Congress.
Testifying before the House Appropriations Military Construction/Veterans Affairs Subcommittee (HAC-MilCon/VA), Conger laid out the case for another BRAC round: 1) DoD continues to have significant excess capacity, 2) proposed troop reductions will create additional unneeded capacity, 3) savings from previous BRACs has have been substantial, and 4) the BRAC process allows DoD to rationalize the alignment of infrastructure with force structure and transition excess property for reuse.
These comments echoed statements Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s has made in support of another BRAC round. Earlier this month, Hagel told Congress that DoD must divest “excess domestic facilities and BRAC is the most responsible path.” He added that DoD cannot continue to finance “overhead that we don’t need, because we’re taking that money from areas that we do need.” If DoD delays in reducing excess infrastructure now, funding in future budgets will have to be diverted from training and equipping troops to support unneeded facilities, Hagel warned.
In his testimony before the HAC subcommittee, Conger responded to criticism that the BRAC process does not achieve advertised savings. He presented data that support DoD’s contention that base closings do yield substantial savings. The first four BRAC rounds (1988, 1991, 1993, 1995) “are producing a total of about $8 billion and BRAC 2005 is producing an additional $4 billion in annual recurring savings,” he emphasized. These total annual savings of $12 billion are the “result of the avoided costs for base operating support, personnel, and leasing costs that BRAC has made possible,” he said.
Congressional critics of BRAC contend that the 2005 BRAC costs were $325 billion higher than projected. Conger agreed that “we cannot afford another $35 billion BRAC round.” But, he argued much of BRAC 2005 focused on “taking advantage of transformational opportunities that were available only under BRAC.” And, both DoD and the Congress seized this opportunity while budgets were high. He cited as an example the consolidations of hospitals in the National Capital Area and in San Antonio. Rather than driving only for savings under these consolidations, DoD and the Congress decided to make the hospitals “world class” employing the latest health care standards.
Conger stressed that the BRAC process is “auditable and logical which enables independent review by the Commission [on Base Realignment and Closure] and affected communities.” This position is supported by the General Accountability Office (GAO), he said. In a report last year, GAO stated that BRAC 2005 “was generally logical, reasoned and well documented and we continue to believe the process remains fundamentally sound.”
DoD leaders recognize that any proposed BRAC round faces strong opposition and much skepticism in the Congress. Congress has rejected two previous BRAC proposals. In 2012, after it was clear that Congress would not support the request for another BRAC, then Secretary Leon Panetta notified Congress that DOD would not continue to press for the 2013 BRAC round. However, he warned “this does not mean that BRAC is dead.” DoD still needs to “take a hard look at what we do in terms of support infrastructure as we seek to reduce overhead costs,” he said. His words were prescient as DoD is again proposing another BRAC round.
This year, there doesn’t appear to be strident opposition to BRAC that Congress has demonstrated in the past. However, there is little strong support for a new round. Secretary Hagel has appealed to Congress to work with DoD to make wise decisions on force structure and DoD infrastructure. But, he also cautioned that “if Congress continues to block these [BRAC] requested while reducing the overall budget, we will have to consider every tool at our disposal to reduce infrastructure.”