Bric-a-BRAC

birc-a-bracThere’s lots of hot air blowing about on the subject of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) inside the Beltway.  I thought I put a few points out there as food for thought.  First of all, a quick explanation of the BRAC process is in order (Here’s a link to the 2005 BRAC web page).  BRAC is the process by which the Defense Department determines what US bases and facilities are no longer needed or facilities which should be repurposed, obtains Congressional approval to close those bases and goes about closing the bases  The determination process is done secretly within each Service based on criteria set in advance by OSD and the Services.   The Service data is then forwarded to OSD where the lists are “modified” to accommodate the desires of the OSD staff and SECDEF.  This list is then presented to an independent BRAC Commission.  The commissioners are appointed by the President, in consultation with the Congress.  The BRAC staff reviews the recommendations, conducts field visits and hearings around the country, and then the Commission produces a list of base closures.  This list is given to the President for review and approval who then forwards the list to Congress.  Congress has 45 days to vote “all or none” (no modifications allowed) on the recommendations.  If they do nothing, the recommendations become law and DoD has six years to close or realign the bases on the list.  In past BRACs the DoD has done a variety of disposal actions, including Federal real property  made available by public benefit conveyances for airport, education, and homeless assistance; federal transfers to native American tribes; economic development conveyances to local redevelopment authorities; and public sales.

Communities spend vast amount of money and effort preparing for BRAC, making sure the contributions to the local economy from local bases are well known, lobbying the Hill and Pentagon and generally stirring up dust in an attempt to “BRAC-Proof” their bases. That’s a big reason why the process is kept under wraps until released to the Commission.

The Defense Department says it needs BRAC to rid itself of excess infrastructure in order to reduce costs.  The big question is rather or not BRAC closures actually achieve the projected savings.  That’s a tough question because there is a fair amount of conflicting data out there.  The DoD uses a model (critics say it’s flawed and inaccurate) called COBRA (Cost of Base Realignment Actions) that projects closure costs and the modeling results are generally used for racking and stacking the recommendations. To my knowledge, the model has never be compared to actual costs in order to validate its results (partly because I doubt if the real costs are known). I just don’t know enough about it to have an opinion either way, but given that determining costs is involved I tend to agree with the critics.

There have been several problems related to BRAC which have limited savings or increased costs:

  • Environmental Clean up costs are often underestimated negating the savings anticipated.
  • Turnover from DoD to the receiving locality or other governmental agency has not progressed smoothly.
  • Unsafe building must be demolished before turnover
  • Local communities not prepared to accept the property and ensure security.

I just read today that the Navy’s Treasure Island Facility, BRACed in 1993, is now scheduled for radiation testing because high levels of radioactivity have been detected in the housing areas. YIKES!

The CNO has said that the Navy does not need another round of BRAC , but the Army and the Air Force maintain that it’s needed.  The Army’s position is certainly understandable  given the  personnel reductions they are facing.

Although great pains were taken to “de-politicize” the BRAC process, politics inevitably creep in.  Take for instance the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard located in Defense Committee Heavy New England.  Its main purpose was to refuel nuclear submarines.  The Navy’s newest version, the Virginia-class is designed to last 30 years without refueling.  The last of the submarines requiring refueling are long gone, but when the Navy tried to close it, the fan was clogged by politics and it was removed from the list.

So keep an eye out in the  Defense Budget debate over the next few months.  To Bric-a-BRAC?  That is the question.

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