More Base Closings? Wittman: Don't Even Think About It
By Hugh Lessig
Newport News Daily Press
March 10, 2013
The Pentagon is postponing ship deployments, deferring major projects and planning to furlough thousands of Defense Department employees.
Could there also be a repeat of the 2005 base-closing round that downsized the military in Hampton Roads?
That prospect of another BRAC commission, which stands for Base Realignment and Closure, doesn't seem likely in the short term. But the potential of a BRAC round in 2014 or beyond has prompted Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Westmoreland, to launch the equivalent of a preemptive congressional strike.
Next week, he will call military officials before his House Armed Services subcommittee to talk about the idea. The title of the hearing hints at Wittman's skepticism: "Is Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) appropriate at this time?"
"Let's get out in front of this – if it is suggested," he said Friday.
Wittman said there has been "some suggestion" to look at BRAC two years down the road or in 2017. At the moment, the Pentagon is dealing with across-the-board cuts under sequestration while working under last year's budget resolution, which limits the flexibility of admirals and generals to shift money to cover new priorities.
Also, Congress has yet to receive a report on the scope of its overseas military facilities.
All this should play out before Congress looks at closing U.S. military bases. Results from BRAC are not easily reversed.
"You don't get a chance to press the reset button," he said. "You can't say 'whoops, we did too much.’“
GAO Cites Flaws
Compounding Wittman's concern are reports from the Government Accountability Office – the most recent one issued Thursday – that point to shortcomings in the 2005 BRAC round.
The 2005 BRAC closed Fort Monroe in Hampton, threatened Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach and merged some common functions at four bases that resulted in the creation of Joint Base Langley-Eustis on the Peninsula and Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story in South Hampton Roads. I
It was, according to GAO, the biggest, most complex and costliest BRAC round ever. More than a downsizing effort, it sought to transform the structure of military forces as leaders looked at needs years down the road.
But 2005 BRAC failed to fully deliver on its promised cost savings, GAO found last year. One time construction costs jumped by 67 percent and five projects had one-time cost increase that skyrocketed beyond 1,000 percent of what Congress was originally told.
Due primarily to those one-time cost increases, the expected 20-year net present value of BRAC 2005 – a measure of costs and savings over time – plummeted by 72 percent.
A new GAO report on Thursday looked at how BRAC estimated costs. It used a model that was considered to be a "reasonable estimator" for comparing potential costs and savings, the study said.
However, the process "was hindered in many cases" by underestimating figures entered into that model.
Wittman is mindful of the GAO studies. He characterized the 2005 BRAC round as "an absolute failure in its effort to save money."