In the past, the Pentagon has been able to convince skeptical lawmakers to authorize rounds of base closures by promising significant savings.
But the 2005 base realignment and closure round may have been a game-changer politically because it cost far more than promised and breaking even on those costs will take longer than expected.
The Pentagon insists that the next BRAC round, which it would like to begin in 2015, will be different. Officials say the process will cost $2.4 billion over three years, fiscal 2016 through 2018, but will start saving money soon after.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 17 that the military doesn’t require a new study to know that with end strength coming down by about 100,000 and the war in Afghanistan winding down, the military needs to slim down its bases.
“BRAC, as we all know, is imperfect,” Hagel said. “But in the long term, there are significant savings. The previous five rounds of BRAC are saving $12 billion annually. And those savings will continue.”
But lawmakers can’t get past the 2005 BRAC, the biggest ever, which suffered from increased costs that decreased the projected savings.
The 2005 BRAC involved more than 800 defense locations and the planned relocation of more than 125,000 personnel. The BRAC commission originally estimated that it would cost about $21 billion for facility construction, renovation and other upfront expenses. The four previous BRAC rounds cost in total $25 billion, according to the Government Accountability Office.
But the GAO found that implementation costs grew to $35.1 billion, and the annual accrued savings is expected to drop almost 10 percent, to $3.8 billion.
In a March report, the GAO suggested several matters for Congress to consider for amending BRAC laws if it decides to authorize future BRAC rounds.
“First, if cost savings are to be a goal of any future BRAC round, Congress could elevate the priority DOD and the BRAC Commission give to potential costs and savings as a selection criterion for making BRAC recommendations,” the report concluded. “Second, Congress could consider requiring [the Office of the Secretary of Defense] to formally establish targets that the department expects to achieve from a future BRAC process and require OSD to propose selection criteria as necessary to help achieve those targets.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.