DOD hopes to save money with more base closures, fewer civilians
WASHINGTON — The Defense Department is hoping to save “substantial sums” by closing bases and reducing the civilian workforce in another round of Base Realignment and Closure, but it’s unlikely that Congress or state governments will be receptive to the plan.
"We have to ask," DOD Comptroller Robert Hale told reporters Wednesday afternoon. "We know we need it," he said, and it would be "irresponsible" not to ask.
The first four rounds of BRAC — 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995 — are saving the Pentagon about $8 billion a year, and the 2004 round of BRAC saves the department about $4 billion a year, said Mark Wright, a DOD spokesman. However, in March the Government Accountability released a report saying the DOD underestimated costs associated with the most recent round of closures and that the savings were overstated.
The president’s proposed 2014 budget includes a request for $2.4 billion over the next five years to start the next BRAC process to consolidate infrastructure and restructure the civilian workforce.
Hale called BRAC the "only effective way" to consolidate infrastructure, and said the Pentagon would use the 1993 and 1995 rounds of BRAC as a model.
In 2012, defense leaders floated the idea of new rounds of BRAC, but the plan was immediately squelched.
“Frankly, this was no surprise,” then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in August 2012. “But sooner or later, one way or another, the Department is going to have to take a hard look at its basing infrastructure as we seek to reduce our overhead costs.”
In February of this year, Panetta said members of Congress should know that the deep cuts they imposed on the Pentagon would force another round of BRAC.
“What do they expect?” he said. “You can’t have a huge infrastructure supporting a reduced force.”
Some states have begun to prepare. The Virginia governor’s office last month hired a consultant, who is doing similar work in Alabama and Florida, to defend against possible base closures in that state, The Virginian-Pilot reported.
Also last month, the acting deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment told the House Armed Services Committee that the DOD has far more infrastructure than it needs.
Rep. Michael Turner, chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, criticized all the cuts built into the budget proposal, specifically naming BRAC as a bad idea.
"How much more will the president ask of our military, while simultaneously cutting the resources they need to defend this nation?" he said in a written statement.
A 2004 DOD study found the military had 24 percent excess capacity, and the 2005 round of BRAC only reduced that capacity by 3.4 percent, John Conger said.