Rep. Smith's base-realignment plan takes aim at cost overruns from 2005 commission

Staff writerMay 6, 2014 

Rep. Adam Smith today submitted a plan to ensure the Pentagon actually delivers cost-savings if Congress moves forward with its request for a round of military base closures.

Smith’s measure is intended to help sell lawmakers on the worthiness of a Base Realignment and Closure Commission after a 2012 postmortem on the last round revealed that cost-overruns dramatically undercut its savings to the defense budget.

That BRAC in 2005 was supposed to trim $36 billion in Pentagon spending by 2025, but expensive construction projects meant to “transform” the force ate into the savings.

As a result, the Government Accountability Office estimated in 2012 that the base realignments would lead to only $10 billion of savings.

The 2012 GAO report dashed whatever chance Congress might have had of approving then Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s 2012 request for a BRAC.

“Given that the last BRAC round transformed more than it closed and has cost more and saved less than original estimates, members of Congress have justifiable reservations about giving the Department of Defense authority to conduct another round,” Smith, a Democrat from Bellevue, said in a prepared statement.

Smith, the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, would change the process by requiring the Pentagon to declare that the purpose of a new BRAC would be to save money that could be applied to military readiness.

His BRAC amendment to the annual defense funding bill would require the Pentagon to submit master plans for each recommendation detailing the costs of any construction. If defense officials wanted to change the proposal, they’d have to seek congressional approval.

The amendment also would call on the Defense Department to create a transparent BRAC by publishing unclassified descriptions of the condition of its facilities as well as calculations of any projected savings.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel this year renewed the Pentagon’s request for a BRAC. Defense officials say they have excess capacity and they’re using money for building upkeep that could be applied to training and readiness.

BRAC rounds are difficult to approve in Congress because they have the potential to slash military installations in lawmakers’ home districts.

“The Department of Defense estimates it has excess infrastructure capacity, and this excess takes money away from training, maintenance, and operations.  In the current budget environment, where important programs are being cut across the board, this is a waste of scare resources,” Smith said in his written remarks.

The 2005 BRAC resulted in the creation of 12 joint bases, including the merger of Fort Lewis and McChord Air Field. Army officials have not been able to say whether that merger saved money.

The cost overruns identified by the GAO in 2012 included:

* $1.7 billion in unexpected expenses in the consolidation of medical serves at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

• Closing leased offices for the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency at a cost of $2.5 billion instead of $1.1 billion.

• Closing Fort Monmouth, N.J., at a cost of $1.9 billion instead of $1.1 billion.

• Creating the San Antonio Regional Medical Center at a cost of $2 billion instead of $1 billion.

 

• Realigning Army maneuver training at Fort Benning, Ga., at a cost of $1.7 billion instead of $773 million.

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