If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It.

I just finished reading this article concerning the Air Force waiting for things to break in their shore if-it-aint-brokeinfrastructure  instead of doing preventative maintenance.  My first thought was, “I sure hope that doesn’t include nukes!!!”  From what I can tell from the article, maybe yes, maybe no.  So that has me a little worried.  But there were several other  things about that article that worried me.

First, it said that the Services only submitted about 80% of what they needed for facilities maintenance because they wanted to put priority on training and operations instead of maintaining their buildings.  I believe the idea was to fix things as they fail.  Who wants to be in a building that might “fail”?  Not me.  I’m puzzled as to why they wouldn’t ask for everything  needed since the money for such things comes from different appropriations than training and operations.  By the way, they got all that they asked for which leaves me wondering what would have happened if they asked for what they really needed.

Second, what makes them think there’s going to be any more money in the out-years to make things right?  If we are deferring maintenance, then it stands to reason that it’s only going to cost more to fix next year.  We already know that money is not going to be there.  Personally, I’m not so sure about jumping on an elevator in an Air Force building knowing that it hasn’t been maintained and the threshold for them to do any maintenance on it is me getting stuck between floors.  I’d also be careful about walking around on an AFB if I were you. You never know when something above might “fail.”

By the way, this is not just an Air Force problem.  Here is a similar article about Navy facilities and infrastructure.  Stunningly, it says that of the 13 barracks at NAS Oceana, 10 of them are rated substandard.  What happened to taking care of our number one asset….our Sailors.  And we only asked for 80% of the money to fix them??

Thirdly, one Commander in the article is worried that money for repair is so short, that even when things break there will not be enough money to fix them.  Little wonder, since they only asked of 80% of what they needed.  I suppose they are hoping for some sort of natural disaster so they can go in for supplemental funding to fix everything.

Waiting for OCO
Waiting for OCO

Once something happens, there will be a feeding frenzy at the supplemental trough to fix not only what was damaged by said disaster, but also stuff that was damaged by neglect.  What a world!

Finally, it says that the Air Force is not planning on returning to “full spectrum readiness” (whatever that means) until 2023.  That must mean they have a plan….but since when has any service been able to stick to a plan more than a couple of years????  Heck, in the Navy, we change the 30 Year Shipbuilding plan just about every year!

As for the using maintenance dollars to buy readiness, I thought that is what the Overseas Contingency money was supposed to do.  Remember the almost $60 Billion in OCO for 2016?  So even as a former practitioner of the mystical and black art of Defense budgeting, I just can’t figure out why we didn’t  ask for all the money we needed to maintain our infrastructure in “war fighting condition.” carriergolf After all, especially in the Air Force, their bases are where they fight wars from…It’s analogous to the Navy’s ships.  I guess the old saying that the Air Force only builds runways after the O”Club, golf course, pool, commissary and exchange are built isn’t true anymore.  I guess now is should be, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  If its broke, good luck getting it fixed!”

I recall reading an article not long after the Berlin Wall fell which said the conditions  in East German bases were puzzling.  The barracks the soldiers were living in were barbaric…..but just across the street, the tanks, personnel carriers, trucks, artillery and lots of other weapons were sitting in pristine condition in air conditioned splendor.  This is what happens when we value things over people.  Hey, recruiting is at an all time high.  We could probably stand a few people jumping ship anyway.  Why not skimp on their facilities so that we can continue to pay for the cost overruns of the JSF and other out-of-control acquisition programs?

On the other hand, I suppose you could say that this problem is yet another symptom of the need for another round of BRAC.  Good luck with that!

Oh, by the way, no facilities were damaged in the writing of this article.

 

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Neglected Nightmares and Forgotten Dreams

I know.  I know.  You are asking what can this article possibly be about? Well, it’s all about the DoD budget (the Dream) and sequestration (the Nightmare).  I’ve been talking to a few budget folks over the past week and asking how is this year compared to others in terms of pain.  The universal answer has been “Not so bad this year.”  But soon all our dreams of finally getting some sanity in the budget process will give way to the nightmarish and forgotten process known as Sequestration.  It’s been quite a journey to get to where the DoD budget is today.  Despite all the dire warning about sequestration, all seems to be well for now.  There’s some squeaking from the fringes about cuts to force structure, BRAC, pay and benefit cuts, rising health care costs,  etc.  There are still some struggles going in within the Navy about how many carriers and other combatants the Navy can afford.  The Air Force is struggling to make ends meet by removing the A-10 from the battlefield, and the Army and Marine Corps are wrestling with end-strength reductions.  Seems like a normal day in DC.  I mentioned it’s been quite a journey to get here, and an improbable one at that.  Let’s just review the history in case visiting Aliens would like a quick briefing (Do you think they would believe it?) or you want to explain it to your grandchildren.

August  2011.  The President signed the Budget Control Act of 2011.  The debt ceiling debate was in full swing but the BCA saved the day ( or so we thought).  It did a few things:

  • Raised the debt ceiling to $14.694 Trillion (bumped up another $500 Billion in Oct 2011)
  • Cut spending for 10 years by about $917 Billion, roughly half for DoD
  • Set up the Congressional “Super Committee” to find another $1.2 Trillion in cuts over 10 years.  If they were unable to do so by December 2011, than a series of mandatory cuts would kick in.
  • Required a vote on a Balanced Budget Amendment (which failed)
  • Monkeyed around with graduate and professional student loans, although it increased funding for Pell Grants

December 2011.  Oooops.  The “Super Committee flopped” so the arbitrary cuts demanded by sequestration loomed for next year’s budget.

February 2012.  DoD Budget for 2013 ignores sequestration.

December 2012.  DoD finally starts planning for possible 2013 spending reductions demanded by sequestration.

January 1, 2013.  The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 delays sequestration to March 1, 2013, and cuts some of the sequestration caps.

March 2013.  Continuing Resolution funds Government till end of September 2013

October 1-16, 2013.  Government Shuts down.

October 16, 2013.  Congress passes the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2014 which funded the Government through February 2014 (actually it extended the debt ceiling limit)

December 26, 2013.  President signs the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 which restored $45 Billion of sequestration cuts in 2014 and $11 Billion in 2015 by adding sequestration cuts to 2022 and 2023.

It this any way to run a railroad?  No wonder nothing works right and everything the government does costs more.  There’s no stability to allow for any sort of long-range plan.  But you all know that.  The point of all this is that through a series of improbable event, we have managed to kludge together funding to keep the US in business (such as it is).  But there’s nothing in the works that I know of to fix 2016, the budget that being build right now in the Pentagon.  And just like a scene out of Ground Hog Day, DoD is putting together a budget that ignores sequestration.  Here’s a chart right out of the DoD 2015 Budget Briefing.  Notice that there is no mention of sequestration (except to exclude it). DoD FY15 Budget Proposal Summary   Now here’s a rough chart (I’m sure the numbers are off slightly) of what sequestration funding levels are relative to the DoD budget.  Notice it’s $115 Billion out of round through 2019.  That’s how much money the Pentagon is stuffing into the budget over sequestration spending levels. DoD_Sequester_Comparison The only point of this little tale is to impress upon you how important it is that we get this fixed.  We can’t keep grinding our people into the dirt with endless budget drills which make no sense.  There are three possible strategies to deal with the situation IMHO:

  1. Business as usual. The politicians will fix it just like last time.  (The Hope gambit and our current vector)
  2. Force DoD to plan for Sequestration in 2016 and beyond. (The Defeatist gambit)
  3. 1 and 2 (The “Probably what’s happening in the Pentagon, but no one will admit it” gambit)

Where do I come down?…..What the heck….let’s go for number 1.  It worked last time and the politicians always fix it in the end, no matter how much pain gets inflicted in the process. And so it goes………..

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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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