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March 8, 2013

A Better Way to Rightsize the Global Defense Infrastructure

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Next week [Thursday, March 14], the House Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on whether the time is right for a round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC).
 
Last year, then Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta requested authority for two rounds--one in 2013 and the other in 2015. The suggestion was not well received. Moderate Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), left no doubt that the idea would not fly. “There is one area where there is absolutely no room for compromise this year, and that is BRAC,” she said. “I will not support the request for a BRAC process to be carried out in 2013.”
Before Congress decides whether or not the time for BRAC has come again, it should ask itself a key question: Is the BRAC process the best way to assess where we invest in and how we manage our global defense infrastructure?
 
The primary purpose of the BRAC process is to save money — but the projected savings often do not materialize. Look at the most recent round of BRAC, conducted in 2005. Last year’s data show the net annual recurring savings were 9.5 percent shy of the original projection. The 20-year net present value savings are now projected to fall 73 percent short of initial estimates.
 
Clearly, BRAC is not performing as advertised on the savings front. So why not pursue a different process entirely? Rather than focus on saving money as their starting point, the Armed Services Committees should focus on assessing exactly what infrastructure the military needs to successfully complete the missions our political leadership may assign them.
 
Any assessment of the military infrastructure must be global in scope, just as Pentagon’s requirements are. The question “How much force is enough?” has haunted military planners, policy-makers, and experts for decades. Do we have enough forward deployed troops in the Asia-Pacific region, especially given the president’s “Pivot to Asia” strategy? How many forces do we need to maintain in the Middle East and Europe?
 
The assessment process must encompass more than just this hawk’s eye perspective, of course. The view from the grassroots level can be incredibly instructive as well. Local communities and businesses provide many services to our military establishments. Working with bases and other installations day-in and day-out, they come to know about shortcomings and inefficiencies of their operations.
 
A good reassessment process will harvest and incorporate this valuable knowledge. In addition, it might open opportunities to expand public-private partnerships, an initiative that has proved quite successfully at select military depots. Take, for example, the Letterkenny Army Depot’s partnership with Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, providing repair and maintenance services for the JAVELIN anti-tank missile system. Using a performance-based logistics approach, the partnership has significantly lowered repair costs while increasing productivity. A 2009 report from the Aerospace Industries Association estimates that adopting this approach more widely could save the Pentagon up to $32 billion a year.
 
Finally, transparency will increase the chances of a success where previous rounds of BRAC failed. This means more than just conducting public hearings in local town halls and full Congressional hearings. It also means publishing clear criteria for determining which facilities can be closed and how, providing the general public as wide access as possible to reports and other documents used in the decision-makings, and posting guidelines that will ensure that the Pentagon will not be stuck with unreasonable transition costs following the closure of facilities.
 
If intelligently executed, a global defense infrastructure management and investment assessment process can help to ensure a successful long-term defense transformation. In the era of declining defense budgets, such a goal is worth pursuing.
 
-Dodge is a research associate specializing in missile defense and weapons modernization at the Heritage Foundation.

First appeared in The Hill.

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