Panetta Throws In The Towel On 2013 Base Closures
By Jared Serbu
Federal News Radio
August 7, 2012
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta officially gave up hope Monday on a 2013 round of defense base shutdowns, at the same time acknowledging he never had much hope to begin with.
In its 2013 budget proposal, DoD told Congress it wanted authority to conduct two more rounds of base realignment and closures — commonly known as BRAC. Officials argued as part of the new defense strategy they developed in response to $487 billion dollars in ten-year budget cuts that they needed to shrink the footprint of U.S. bases to match a shrinking military force.
But the pitch got a frosty reception on Capitol Hill this year. The House passed a 2013 Defense authorization bill that declined to approve another BRAC round. The full Senate has yet to pass its authorization bill, but BRAC was a no-go in the Senate Armed Services Committee as well.
"It's now clear that there will not be a round of BRAC authorized in 2013," Panetta said. "It's no surprise. I didn't put any money on it. I was asked by some of my budgeteers whether we should put a dollar sign in the budget for BRAC, and I told them not to waste their time. We had to put it forward, have to make the argument. But I understand why it's so tough [for Congress]. But it's an important debate we have to have, and frankly, it's not going away."
Panetta said even though DoD wasn't counting on BRAC to meet the budget savings targets it was required to achieve under the Budget Control Act, base closures are going to have to come sooner or later.
Later is more likely though.
"I understand that now is not the time for another BRAC round, especially when our economy is struggling to recover," he said. "But the reality is that the department is going to need to take a hard look at what we do in terms of supportive infrastructure. If I'm taking the force structure down and still maintaining large infrastructure costs, then the money that ought to be going to training our soldiers is going to extra infrastructure. It's the very definition of hollowing-out the force."
Panetta made his remarks to an audience at the annual conference of the Association of Defense Communities, which represents local governments and other organizations with a significant military presence. The venue was Carmel, Calif., near where Panetta lives, and in the district he represented as a Congressman in the early 1990s.
Panetta was on the losing end of a BRAC decision when in 1991, the base closing commission selected Fort Ord for its shutdown list. He and local leaders fought the closing of the Army base, which he recalled was responsible for 25 percent of the local economy, but lost in the end.
"We had to face the reality of what took place. We sat around a table and said, ‘Okay, now what?' Everybody agreed the important thing was to move on and develop an effective reuse for that base," he said. "We had a hell of a lot of people that offered proposals. Some people wanted it to be Disneyland on the central coast or a new prison."
In the end, part of the base became home to a new campus of the California State University system, though much of the old post still is occupied by deteriorating buildings and sites that need cleanup. Panetta said DoD needs to address those responsibilities at bases across the country that have been closed in prior BRAC rounds.
But he promised the Defense Communities audience that despite budget cuts, DoD would continue to spend money through its Office of Economic Adjustment (OEA) to help communities that have been hurt by closed bases or defense industry layoffs, or conversely, whose local infrastructure is being strained by an influx of military personnel because of realignments.
DoD saved Monday's speech to announce two new OEA grants totaling $45.7 million to Montgomery County, Md. and Lakewood, Wash. The money is to be used by local governments to improve their transportation infrastructure to accommodate an influx of military personnel following the realignment of military medical facilities at Washington state's Joint Base Lewis-McChord and the newly-combined Walter Reed-Bethesda hospitals in D.C.'s Maryland suburbs.
While DoD waits for the congressional authority it says it needs for more BRAC, Panetta said he's telling the department to find ways to save money on the basing infrastructure it now has.
He said Monterey has shown one way forward via shared services between local governments and its remaining military installation, the Presidio of Monterey. The military base and the local city government decided to create joint public services for everything from child care and fire protection to broadband connectivity and roadway maintenance.
"This approach has allowed both DoD and the city of Monterey to provide the services we need for our forces and at the same time achieve significant savings." Panetta said he wants DoD to treat the Presidio experience as a pilot program and copy it elsewhere throughout the country.