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Deficit Reduction Will Prompt BRAC Round by 2017, Panelists Surmise

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  • December 15, 2011
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Amid the uncertainty as to how deep the Pentagon’s budget will be sliced over the coming decade and where the cuts will fall, the panel of speakers featured on the inaugural Defense Communities 360 Live Webcast Thursday warned defense communities that the consequences of the government’s imperative to reduce spending would be widespread at installations across the nation, affecting personnel and missions.

“Every military base should seriously contemplate that something adverse is going to happen to them,” Barry Steinberg, partner at Kutak Rock, told listeners.

Whether or not defense spending drops by $450 billion — or closer to $1 trillion over the next 10 years due to automatic spending cuts slated to take effect in January 2013 — the military’s force structure, along with aircraft and other weapons systems, will decline.

Fellow panelist Cece Carman Siracuse echoed Steinberg’s advice: “I don’t think there’s any mission out there that won’t be impacted.”

One place officials will look for savings are installations with large concentrations of civilian personnel, a quick way to slash the budget. Depots and other logistics facilities, for example, could be vulnerable, Steinberg said.

With falling troop levels and the consolidation of missions, excess capacity at bases will grow, increasing pressure on the department to scale back its real estate.

“I don’t see a scenario where there’s not going to be some type of base closure process,” stated Siracuse, a senior associate at Hurt, Norton and Associates.

As a result of the combination of a shrinking force structure, surplus capacity and the urgent need to pare the budget, “you will hear the drumbeat grow for a base closure round,” added John Simmons, senior advisor at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP.

The most likely timing for a new base closure round would be during a non-election year. It’s most likely too late to schedule one for 2013, leaving 2015 as the next most likely time, Steinberg suggested.  Simmons pegged 2015 or 2017 as likely dates for a new BRAC round that he said he is confident is coming.

The Pentagon’s need to identify immediate savings raises the possibility that the department asks Congress for a “limited BRAC authority,” Siracuse said, especially if the $500 billion in defense cuts triggered by the supercommittee’s failure stays in place. The payoff for major BRAC rounds — with the last one a perfect example — does not occur until many years later, she explained.

Such an authority would allow DOD to consolidate various missions through realignment without Congress overseeing the process. For example, officials likely would merge similar functions performed across the services, such as aircraft repair or pilot training, Siracuse said. Use of the authority almost certainly would result in the department slashing its infrastructure to a greater extent than occurred in the the last round.

The next BRAC round largely would resemble past ones, mostly because they succeeded in identifying excess capacity and eliminating it, Steinberg said. Congress likely would impose more precise constraints on what approaches DOD could pursue in overhauling its real estate, as compared to the 2005 round. Another change would be requiring officials to adopt a more accurate way to assess the costs and savings associated with base closure recommendations, Steinberg said.

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