Official makes case for more base closures, realignments
WASHINGTON, April 25, 2013 – Recognizing congressional resistance to another round of base realignments and closures, a senior defense official told a Senate panel yesterday it would be irresponsible to cut the military’s “tooth” without doing everything possible to eliminate excess within its “tail.”
John C. Conger, acting deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment, made the case for a 2015 BRAC round during testimony before the Senate Armed Service Committee’s readiness and management support subcommittee.
DOD is facing a serious problem in light of its declining budgets and force structure, but has limited flexibility to adjust its infrastructure accordingly, he told the panel.
“We need to find a way to strike the right balance so infrastructure does not drain too many resources from the warfighter,” he said. “We need to be cognizant that maintaining more infrastructure than we need taxes other resources that the warfighter needs -- from depot maintenance to training to bullets and bombs.”
Conger cited $8 billion in annual, recurring savings from the first four rounds of BRAC in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995. BRAC 2005 is producing another $4 billion in annual savings through avoided costs for base operating support, personnel and leasing costs, he reported.
Meanwhile, BRAC 2005 eliminated 13,000 civilian positions -- an example of the kind of workforce efficiencies the fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act requires, he said. Previous BRAC rounds averaged 36,000 eliminations per round.
“Congress has already demanded these civilian personnel cuts, and if they are not made through BRAC, they will need to be made elsewhere,” Conger argued.
As the department seeks cost-saving measures, it also is undergoing a comprehensive review that kicked off in January to identify potential cases for closure or consolidation there, he noted.
“There are other examples where we're driving towards efficiencies throughout the department, and we have to do that. Installations are just one piece of the puzzle,” Conger said. “But as we cut down in force structure, it would be irresponsible of us not to … propose ways to cut the tail as we cut the tooth.”
Conger acknowledged skepticism in Congress about the need for another round of BRAC, most likely, he said, because implementing the last round cost so much more than anticipated.
“To be clear, BRAC 2015 will not look like BRAC 2005,” he told the panel. The previous BRAC, he said, was conducted while the force structure and budgets were growing, and under leadership-directed transformations across the department.
“Today, force structure is shrinking, the budget is shrinking, and we are firmly focused on reducing our future costs,” he said, noting similar circumstances during the first four rounds of BRAC.
“I can assert with confidence that a 2015 round will have far more in common with them than it would with the 2005 round,” Conger said.
The BRAC discussion came within the context of the Defense Department’s fiscal 2014 budget proposal. It includes $11 billion for military construction, $10.9 billion for investments to sustain and restore DOD facilities and $3.8 billion for environmental measures.
The request, Conger noted, is slightly higher than the fiscal 2013 appropriation. This is in part because all but the most critical projects and measures were curtailed this year due to sequestration.
“While budgets are constrained and force structure shrinks, our infrastructure is being held constant,” he told the senators, emphasizing that DOD must maintain its 550,000 buildings and structures that support military operations and readiness.