Now that the House and Senate panels responsible for BRAC have held their hearings on the administration’s fiscal 2016 budget request, it’s clear that the two subcommittee chairs are no less opposed to green lighting the Pentagon’s request to hold a new BRAC round than they have been in the past.
Last Wednesday, Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services’ Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee, was upfront about her views on the matter, telling the installation chiefs for DOD and each of the services that her “going-in position” was that she is opposed to BRAC.
At the previous week’s House Armed Services’ Readiness Subcommittee hearing, Chairman Rob Wittman (R-Va.) never stated his opposition to the department’s BRAC proposal but asked questions designed to bolster arguments against the request.
In response to a question from the chairman, John Conger, acting assistant secretary of defense for energy, installations, and environment, said his office projected that a BRAC round focused on efficiencies would cost $6 billion in one-time costs to carry out over a six-year period, while accruing $6 billion in savings over that same time. Following the implementation period, the round would generate $2 billion in savings annually, Conger said.
In turn, Wittman concluded out that a new BRAC round would not produce any savings over the Pentagon’s five-year planning period, known as the FYDP, the future years defense program.
“It’s questionable at best about the dollars that would be available within the FYDP, so the assertion that those dollars would be available for readiness I believe certainly leaves much for analysis to consider what would actually be able to be planned to be spent in readiness accounts,” the chairman said.
And an earlier statement by Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy, and environment, that the savings generated by a BRAC round could help restore funding for training, Wittman said, “I think is a bridge too far.”
Can BRAC and Uncertainty Mix?
Later Wittman asked how the department could undertake a BRAC round when it faces so much uncertainty, regarding rising threats around the globe, changes in end strength and the fate of sequestration.
Conger acknowledged the level of certainty but pointed out that officials are contemplating eliminating only 5 percent of its capacity, when it believes at least 20 percent of its infrastructure is excess to its needs.
DOD is not looking for Congress to “give us BRAC authority so we can close all of our excess — because that would be foolish,” Conger responded.
“You are only looking at divesting those installations that are of the lowest military value,” he said.
Wittman then rephrased his question. “Do you believe that there should be a logical process to say let’s cross off a few of these other uncertainties on the list first before we get to the point of doing a BRAC,” he began.
“If we don’t get that [capacity] right, we can’t dial it up like a radio dial and say, ‘Woops, sorry, we made a mistake, we’ll just dial it back up,’ because it’s hard to dial back up that capacity once it’s lost,” the chairman added.
Conger answered that he believed it is possible to act in the face of uncertainty. “We are not going to pursue recommendations in the name of savings that accept so much risk that that would be an issue,” he stated.