Panetta: More Rounds of Base Closures Are Inevitable
But Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is not about to give up trying. He is convinced that shutting down excess facilities is going to be an important piece of the Pentagon's cost-cutting plan.
“Now may not be the time for BRAC as our economy recovers, but sooner or later, one way or another, the department is going to need to take a hard look at its basing infrastructure as we seek to reduce our overhead costs,” Panetta said Aug. 6 in a speech at the annual meeting of the Association of Defense Communities in his hometown of Monterey, Calif.
The Defense Department already has begun the closure and realignment of several facilities in Europe, and has put forth a proposal for a BRAC commission for 2013 and 2015. The House Armed Services Committee shut down any possibility of a 2013 BRAC round when it included an amendment to the defense authorization bill that barred any expenditures associated with base closings and realignments.
As a former congressman from BRAC-bruised California, Panetta recognizes that base closures are a taboo subject during an election year, but he still is hopeful that the issue can be reopened for discussion.
"I had no illusions that BRAC would be an easy sell politically,” he said. “But we had a responsibility to make decisions according to strategy, and to put everything on the table. It is now clear that there will not be a round of BRAC authorized in 2013.”
While this was no surprise, Panetta said, “I felt that it was an important debate to have, and it is a debate we must continue. Based on conservative estimates, the first four rounds of BRAC are producing annual savings of $8 billion, and the comparable figure for the 2005 round is $4 billion.”
He said base closures, contrary to popular belief, do not necessarily fuel unemployment. “BRAC provides communities the legal mechanisms to facilitate the transfer of property in ways that can promote job creation and economic development,” he said. “I know from my own experience that there still is a great deal of frustration with the way that BRAC has been carried out in the past.”
The Pentagon still has “unfinished business” from previous rounds such as providing caretaker funds, getting environmental cleanup under way expeditiously and disposing of property, said Panetta. “Let me assure you that I am committed to resolving these concerns.”
The last BRAC round in 2005 caused “growing pains for some communities,” he said. “In places where the defense mission was expanded, communities have had to cope with significant traffic congestion and other growth-related challenges.”
Panetta announced the Defense Department will be awarding up to $300 million in grants — from a congressional appropriation for transportation infrastructure improvements at medical facilities that were realigned as part of BRAC 2005. The first grant will go to the City of Lakewood, Wash. Another will be for Montgomery County, Md.
Photo Credit: Defense Department