A senior DoD official urged Congress to authorize two more Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) rounds requested in the administration’s FY2013 budget. Testifying last week before the Readiness Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), Dr. Dorothy Robyn, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Installations and Environment, said DoD needs to reduce excess capacity as it adjusts to force structure reductions and a new global posture.
She underscored Secretary Panetta’s warning that the significant reductions (-$487 billion over the next 10 years) required by the Budget Control Act call for bold actions to use defense resources more effectively. In this environment “we cannot afford to maintain excess capacity,” she said. And, she argued, in order to reduce that excess capacity in the US, the BRAC process is the “only fair, objective, and proven process.”
Robyn assured the subcommittee that DoD is not just concentrating on facilities in the United States. She said DoD is moving aggressively to close US bases in Europe, where no BRAC authority is needed. Planned actions will continue the significant number of reductions that have already occurred in DoD’s European footprint (over 100 sites have been closed since 2003), she said. The Army is closing 23 more sites between 2012 and 2015. Dr. Robyn emphasized that there are more opportunities to consolidate European infrastructure: closing some of the remaining 300 installation sites; eliminating excess support structure (e.g., warehouses and administrative space); and using excess capacity for new functions.
In response to criticism that the BRAC process does not achieve advertised savings, Dr. Robyn presented data that supported DoD’s contention that base closings do yield substantial savings. She pointed to recurring savings of about $8 billion per year from the first four BRAC rounds (1988, 1991, 1993, 1995). Annual savings from BRAC 2005 are averaging $4 billion, she said. These total annual savings of $12 billion are the equivalent of buying 300 attack helicopters, 124 F/A-18E/F aircraft, or four Virginia class submarines, she contended.
She acknowledged that the 2005 BRAC had very high costs, but eliminated little excess capacity. However, she argued that the 2005 focus was to consolidate and realign infrastructure to “maximize war fighting capacity and efficiency.” And although the total costs were very high ($35.1 billion) the annual savings are the highest of any previous BRAC, she said.
Robyn also cited the Government Accountability Office (GAO) criticism that DoD does not effectively track savings. In response, she said that most of the savings are avoided costs and “the Department’s accounting system, like that of private firms, does not track avoided costs. Thus, we can only estimate them.” She said that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) supported this point. She pointed out that GAO also conceded (GAO-02-433) that BRAC savings are “real and substantial.”
Even though Robyn made a strong case for two more BRAC rounds, DoD’s request faces heavy sledding in the Congress, especially during an election year. HASC Readiness subcommittee chairman Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA) expressed strong opposition to another BRAC round in the hearing. “If the Administration presumes that a reduced force structure is required to meet our future security challenges, and cite this as the principal reason for this BRAC request, I must move to vigorously oppose another round of BRAC,” he said.
Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) reacted negatively to the potential high costs associated with BRAC. “The experience of the past five BRAC rounds – including the 2005 round that cost taxpayers $35 billion to implement – proves that another such round does not make sense for our national defense or our national finances,” she said.
Dr. Robyn acknowledged strong the congressional opposition to base closings, but contended more BRAC rounds are essential to the success of US security policy. “The Department’s leadership recognizes that a request for BRAC is a major step—and one that will be met with considerable opposition in the Congress. We believe it is a necessary step, however,” she said.