Deputy Defense Secretary Takes up the BRAC Mantle

During remarks Wednesday focusing on the bind the Pentagon faces between stringent spending caps and a Congress unwilling to embrace the department’s belt-tightening reforms, Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work believed there was an opening to make the case for a new round of base closures.

“The first place we should look at is our basing infrastructure. The department spends about $55 billion annually to maintain, sustain, and protect its bases,” Work said during the Center for Strategic and International Studies Fifth Annual Global Security Forum.

And with recent and planned cuts to the military’s force structure, DOD’s excess capacity, estimated at 24 percent, is only rising, he said.

“In this time of constrained resources, I just don’t understand why we are hamstringing ourselves,” Work noted. “Maintaining that extra capacity is a big problem for us because it is wasteful spending, period. It is the worst type of bloat,” he said.

The previous five BRAC rounds are saving the department $12 billion annually.  Critics of a new round point to the high upfront costs of the 2005 round, but that was by design, Work said.

“That BRAC was totally different than the ones before it, because it was realigning domestic basing to accommodate the returning forces that were coming back from Europe and Korea. It consolidated medical facilities across the continental United States. It supported the Army’s shift to modular brigades, and it markedly increased joint basing at a time when the force, at that time, was growing,” he said.

Despite the initial cost, that round is saving DOD $4 billion annually. Officials project “conservatively” that the department would save at least $2 billion annually following a new BRAC round.

“So, the equation is simple. Force structure reductions result in excess bases. And the installations that are excess drain scarce resources from the program. It makes it harder for us to train, equip, and modernize our force,” Work said.

The deputy secretary concluded his argument by citing a statement Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made earlier this year that if Congress continues to block the department’s requests to carry out another BRAC round, DOD will be forced to consider every tool at its disposal to reduce infrastructure.

“Now, dealing simultaneously with this prospect of sequestration coming back, cuts in FY ’16, up to about $70 billion in potential congressional no’s, and congressional opposition to a BRAC, makes a mockery out of the term strategic planning, in my view,” Work said.

Dan Cohen
Dan Cohen
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