The United States operates hundreds of military bases in foreign countries - a network that extends American influence far outside U.S. borders. We chat with author David Vine, whose newest book explores how America's network of military bases abroad may be making the United States and other countries less safe.
Base Realignment and Closure, also known as BRAC, is bringing big changes to the DC Metro area. Decisions made in 2005 are going into effect across the country and the region. We’ll take a look back at how decisions were made, why changes are necessary and how communities have been readying for the change.
- Tim Ford CEO, Association of Defense Communities
- Anthony Principi Secretary of Veterans' Affairs (2001-2005); and Chair of 2005 Defense Base Closure and Realignment (BRAC) Commission
BRAC Locations in the Washington, D.C. Metro Region
View BRAC Locations in D.C. in a larger map
Anthony Principi, former Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs (2001-2005) and Chair of the 2005 Defense Base Closure and Realignment (BRAC) Commission, says that this BRAC process was the largest ever, and produced 837 independent actions. “We had from May to September to really make a very profound change to our military infrastructure that would affect future generations and our national security for years to come,” Principi said:
Anthony Principi, former Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs (2001-2005) and Chair of the 2005 Defense Base Closure and Realignment (BRAC) Commission, says that over the long term, the BRAC process will save money. Initially, the Department of Defense had put the savings estimate at $47.8 billion over 20 years, but Principi says that the Government Accountability Office and the BRAC Commission both put the estimate at closer to $15-$16 billion per year. But Principi emphasizes that the $15-$16 billion is a net savings, and still significant, and that cost was not the only motivation behind BRAC 2005. “It [BRAC] is at least as much, if not more about transformation than cost savings,” Principi said:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Changes set in motion six years ago are underway on and around military bases across the country. They seemed so far away in 2005. So how did we get here? All roads lead back to BRAC. BRAC, a simple four-letter word, but what does it mean? The easy answer is base realignment and closure.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut what does that mean? Today, we start our series on the changes BRAC is bringing to this area, and we start at the very beginning, which seems a good place to start. Joining us in studio is Anthony Principi. He was the chairman of the 2005 Defense Base Closure and -- Realignment and Closure Commission. He served as secretary of Veterans' Affairs from 2001 to 2005. Anthony Principi, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. ANTHONY PRINCIPIThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is Tim Ford. He is the CEO of the Association of Defense Communities, ADC. Tim has been working on the impacts of base closure, base redevelopment and community military partnership since 1999. Tim, good to have you aboard also.
MR. TIM FORDGood to be here.
NNAMDITony Principi, allow me to start with you. The BRAC process is very complicated. How do you explain it to people who are not familiar with it?
PRINCIPII would explain it in the sense that back in 1988 the secretary of defense had, what I would say, unfettered authority to close and realign military bases without the consent of Congress, and that persisted for quite a few years. Actually, I should say it predates 1988 with Secretary Carlucci, Secretary McNamara. Congress became very concerned that it was not bipartisan, that it was not transparent, that it was not independent.
PRINCIPISo a law was passed that created the BRAC Commission that required this independent commission to make its recommendations to the president and then on to the Congress for a final determination. It's the independence and transparency that, I believe, distinguishes the BRAC Commission from what occurred prior to that time.
NNAMDIWhat's the difference between realignment and closure?
PRINCIPIA closure is where the entire military base is, in effect, closed. The flag is lowered, and the property is disposed of, whether it's transferred to the community or to the private sector. A realignment is where certain assets on that military base would be transferred. The -- and other types of military assets might be reassigned to that military installation.
PRINCIPIIt could be a major realignment whereby all of the weapons platforms are distributed to other military bases, and it becomes an enclave. Or they might bring on different types of assets.
NNAMDITim Ford, how did you get involved in all of this?
FORDWell, actually, ADC began in the 1970s when DOD started closing military installations. And there was a concern in the communities who were impacted by this to -- because they weren't understanding what was happening. There was very little communication. And they sort of banded together and said, you know, we need to have a voice in this process.
FORDAnd it's really one of the major reasons we ended up with a BRAC Commission because, you know, the constituents of Congress were not happy that bases were being closed. ADC has grown substantially from those very humble roots and now involves 200-plus communities around the country, 20 states and works on a whole range of issues from base redevelopment but also managing all sorts of installation change issues that might come across from a BRAC process, or even outside of a BRAC process.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, what questions do you have about BRAC and how BRAC decisions were made? Call us at 800-433-8850. You should know that each Monday in June, we'll be talking BRAC. Changes in the works for six years are underway with military members and civilian Department of Defense workers on the move. Monday, June 6, we'll be talking today about the BRAC basics. Next Monday, Maryland, growing pains.
NNAMDIThe Monday after that, Monday, June 20, we'll be talking about Virginia, moving and shaking. Monday, June 27, we'll be talking about Washington D.C. and opportunities in the post-Walter Reed environment. So, today, it's BRAC basics. Call us, 800-433-8850. You can go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there.
NNAMDIIf you want to know more about all things BRAC, you can go to the website, wamu.org/news/brac, where you'll find links to our BRAC series, all of the WAMU newsroom's BRAC reports and a map of the projects underway in our area. Right now, in studio, we're talking with Anthony Principi. He was the chairman of the Base Closure and Realignment Commission. He served as secretary of Veterans' Affairs from 2001 to 2005.
NNAMDIAnd Tim Ford is the CEO of the Association of Defense Communities. Tony Principi, you chaired the 2005 BRAC Commission. How well did your previous experience prepare you for that job?
PRINCIPII am a 1967 graduate of the United States Naval Academy and spent significant time on active duty, did a combat tour in Vietnam. I spent nine years in the United States Senate as counsel and chief counsel on the Armed Services Committee and the Veterans' Affairs Committee and chaired a commission on service members. So I've been in and around military installations, military policy through much of my professional career, Kojo.
NNAMDIYou and your fellow commissioners were not locked in a room with a list of bases and a red marker to come up with a final list. How did you make those difficult decisions?
PRINCIPIWell, I felt it was extremely important that the nine commissioners, the eight, including myself, visit every military installation that Secretary Rumsfeld had recommended for closure or realignment. And we held hundreds of hearings, both across the country and in Washington D.C.
PRINCIPIIn order to be effective, in order to be accepted by the American people, especially in those communities that were being recommended, bases were being recommended for closure or realignment, that we listen to them, that we visit the installation, that we be as open, transparent, independent and nonpartisan as possible. That was extremely important for the integrity of the process, the integrity of these important decisions that impact our national defense, our men and women in uniform.
PRINCIPIAnd we created a website so that people could send their comments to us, much like your website. And that's the process we followed. We had a very short period of time, and we had a phenomenal staff, a great, great staff that worked 24/7 for the five months that we were in existence.
NNAMDITim, the BRAC Commission was created to take politics out of the process. How does it achieve that goal?
FORDWell, I mean, just in its structure, it, you know, certain members are appointed by the president, others appointed by the majority, the minority in Congress. So there's a structure to it to assure that it isn't going to have a political leaning, but I think all the, you know, the commission and the chairman worked very hard to make sure that this was a transparent process. I mean, it's not to say there's no politics involved, and especially when at the local level, this becomes a very big political issue.
FORDAnd, you know, the local communities work like crazy to bring their message across. And, I think, overall, these different rounds of BRAC, they have become fairly sophisticated in their ability to present data to either support or try to challenge a recommendation.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. The way that bases are closed hasn't always been so transparent. How did the process evolve?
PRINCIPIAgain, back -- I think it was in the '70s when Secretary Carlucci made the decision to close military bases, and, you know, it was questioned. It was considered to be nonpartisan that they were closing military bases in certain states and districts that were not friendly to the party in power. And that persisted for several years under different secretaries. So it was in 1988, I believe, the year that the law -- the first law was passed, creating -- that created a BRAC-like structure.
PRINCIPIAnd I certainly concur with Tim's comments that, you know, folks have become somewhat sophisticated in presenting the information. But you have to get out there. You have to listen, and you have to see firsthand. And we reversed Secretary Rumsfeld on several occasions because we felt it was not in the best interest of our defense of our country, and we felt that he significantly deviated from the criteria established in law.
NNAMDIThis is the first time that you posted information online. How did technology change the process for this round?
PRINCIPIIncredibly. It was very, very beneficial. We had well over a million hits on our website. And so we could certainly be in touch with the American people throughout this process and be able to archive that information for future generations, future BRAC commissions. So technology played an important role, and I think it will auger well for the future.
NNAMDIIn some respects, the 2005 commission had to start from scratch. How big a challenge was it to find the right people to work on this issue?
PRINCIPIIncredibly difficult. You know, you start with a great executive director, and I had one in Charles Battaglia, who had spent years on the Hill and the military. And we identified individuals from previous BRAC rounds who were available, who came with a great deal of expertise. The general -- the Government Accountability Office provided significant help, so it was difficult getting off the ground.
PRINCIPIPlus, one senator was refusing to allow our confirmation to go forward because he was concerned that military base in his state was going to be closed and he didn't want to get the Commissioner...
NNAMDIThat's the politics.
PRINCIPIYeah, that's the politics. But the president gave us recess appointments that we were able to get going. But I would point out that this BRAC round, the 2005 BRAC round had 190 recommendations which produced over 837 independent and distinct actions. This was the largest BRAC round ever. It was double the number of recommendations of all previous BRAC rounds combined.
PRINCIPISo our staff and our commissioners really had a lot of work ahead of them if we were going to get it right and...
NNAMDIHow long did you have? How much time did you have to evaluate the Department of Defense's recommendations?
PRINCIPINot long. We received the recommendations in May, if I recall, early May. And by law, we had to have the recommendations on the president's desk by Sept. 8. So you can imagine May until September to really make a very profound change to our military infrastructure that would affect future generations and our national security for years to come.
NNAMDIWhat would have happened if you had failed to meet that Sept. 8, 2005, deadline?
PRINCIPIIt's a great question, Kojo. It would have been over. If the recommendations are not on the president's desk by Sept. 8, the BRAC is terminated, and the recommendations go away.
NNAMDIWell, it wasn't, so Anthony Principi is sitting with us today to talk about the closures that we're talking about and the realignments, the closings, along with Tim Ford. Tim, these are military decisions, but they do have a big impact on civilian workers. What kind of support does the Department of Defense provide for communities once a decision is made affecting them?
FORDWell, it is a big impact on communities. And, you know, we had experienced going through these previous rounds where you had major installations close. So I think our approach to supporting communities really became refined. The Department of Defense has an organization called the Office of Economic Adjustment that its mission is to support communities through defense adjustments.
FORDAnd OEA was very out front in this process and actually began working with many communities prior to the list being released. And once the list was released and the commission was working on it, this -- we talked about communities doing a two-track plan. You fight it on one side. But on the other side, you're starting to put the pieces together if your base does end up being closed.
FORDAnd that jumpstart is very important because if your base is on that ultimate list, the day that it happens, the community is kind of staring at you saying, hey, what's going to happen next? And if you have that plan together, communities realize that was smart. So we -- that was the lesson we learned from previous rounds and, I think, something that was very successful in '05.
NNAMDIHere is Harold in Westminster, Md. Harold, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
HAROLDHi, Kojo. Long time listener, first time caller.
HAROLDI just -- thank you. It's usually very interesting. I just cannot imagine the labors of Hercules that these guys must have had to gone through to -- between May and September. It boggles my mind. But that's -- wasn't why I called. I called because I was a armored cavalry officer in the 3rd Armored Division of the 12th -- I'm sorry, 3rd Armored Cavalry of the 3rd Armored Division back in '64, '65 at a place called Budingen, Germany.
HAROLDAnd friend of mine who was stationed there with me recently called and told me that the place has been closed up. It's all locked up. And -- which makes sense because there isn't any need to be the first line of defense as we were if the Soviet Block decided to come across the border. The question is, when a decision is made like that, to close a place that's in another country, how do they go about deciding what's going to be done with that? Does that go back -- does it revert back to the host country?
PRINCIPII believe it does. It will go back. In the case that you just mentioned, sir, it would go back to the government of Germany. Interesting that you raised that point. During our BRAC Commission, there was an international, if you will, BRAC Commission underway that was looking at the relocation of our military forces from places like Germany back to the United States.
PRINCIPISo we were faced with this 70,000 -- potentially 70,000 troops returning from Europe and Asia and other parts around the world. But directly, yes, the bases go back to their host government.
NNAMDIHarold, thank you very much for your call. This is the first in the series of broadcasts we'll be doing on BRAC on Mondays here on the show. We're inviting your participation, 800-433-8850. If you have questions about how BRAC decisions are made or you may have been involved in the BRAC process either as part of the commission with the Department of Defense or as a community advocate, if so, we'd love to hear from you.
NNAMDICall us at 800-433-8850. You can go to our website, kojoshow.org. Ask a question or make a comment there. Send us an email to email@example.com or a tweet at @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversations, the first in our series on BRAC. And we're talking BRAC basics this Monday. We'll be pursuing this conversation every Monday during the course of the next four weeks or so. Joining us in studio is Anthony Principi. He was chairman of the 2005 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission. He served as secretary of Veterans Affairs from 2001 to 2005. Also in studio with us is Tim Ford.
NNAMDITim is CEO of the Association of Defense Communities, ADC. He's been working on the impacts of base closures, base redevelopment and community military partnership since the year 1999. We're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Anthony Principi, when the process started, the Pentagon said it had 24 percent more base capacity than it needed. These aren't easy decisions, but they are important. Why?
PRINCIPIThe threat assessment going in the future is far different than the threat America faced in the century gone by during World War II, and Korea, Vietnam -- large manpower implications. Certainly, as we look to the future, Secretary Rumsfeld's main goal with this BRAC was to transform our military to meet the new threats of the 21st century, terrorism, cyber security, and threats of that nature.
PRINCIPIThat's not to say that we will not need large manpower requirements in the future, but it's a different threat. And BRAC was designed to ensure that we eliminated excess infrastructure, and the dollar savings could be used more efficiently and more effectively in this new strategic environment.
NNAMDITim Ford, a military base often means big business for the community it's in. Do areas get any advanced warning that BRAC might be coming to their neighborhood?
FORDI mean, there isn't any official warning. But I think communities recognize that, you know, they might have some challenges when they look at the past criteria of commissions, and they can see how they're going to be evaluated. You know, they might say, well, you know, we probably have some risk, especially those communities who might have been on a list in previous rounds of BRAC.
FORDThey're often the ones who are -- have the most concern that there could be some challenges. I think it's important to point out, with BRAC 2005, it was much different than any previous round of BRAC. I mean, all the previous rounds were very focused on just reducing infrastructure and reducing costs because we were coming out of the Cold War, and there was definitely a need to get rid of some bases.
FORDThis did -- 2005 did get rid of bases, but the biggest actions, I think, were in the transformation and the movement of missions all across this country. And for the first time, we had a new category of impacted community, and that were -- that was the gaining communities, who were dealing with mission growth. And that became a very big significant issue that is continuing on today, and Maryland and Virginia are great examples of that.
NNAMDIWell, speaking of the gaining communities, here is Chuck in Arlington, Va., who, I think, wants to talk about one of the, I guess, losing communities. Chuck, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHUCKYes, sir. My question is -- they're closing Walter Reed, and of all the changes, that seems to be the most inappropriate. And I'm wondering what factors were utilized to determine that Walter Reed closure was appropriate, given its location, you know, on Central D.C., sort of. And who's going to get the land? And that's another question. What happens to Walter Reed campus after it's gone?
NNAMDIHere's Tony Principi.
PRINCIPIWalter Reed, the existing facility, which is quite antiquated -- the infrastructure itself, the brick and mortars -- really needs to be modernized. And Walter Reed will exist in the future. It will be consolidated with Bethesda Naval Hospital and be the, I think, the Walter Reed National Medical Center in the area.
PRINCIPIAnd it was determined that consistent with the criteria that we were, you know, required to use in making decisions, that one major modern medical center in-patient facility would be adequate to meet the needs of the military's in-patient population. As you may know, we're -- the Defense Department, as part of BRAC, is building a new hospital out at Fort Belvoir as well, more of a secondary tiered hospital but, nonetheless, an in-patient facility for the vast majority of military personnel who live in Northern Virginia.
PRINCIPIThat was the rationale. And with regard to the land, I believe it is going to be redeveloped. I have not heard precisely what will happen, but I believe it will be redeveloped consistent with the input and the readjustment needs of the District of Columbia as well.
NNAMDIIndeed, Chuck, I happen to live in that community. And there have been a great number of hearings that community residents were invited to participate in. And in a later broadcast in our series, we will be discussing specifically what's going to be happening at Walter Reed. That's on Monday, June 27. So, Chuck, I would listen on Monday, June 27, if I were you. Thank you very much for your call.
CHUCKThank you. Appreciate it.
NNAMDICouple of other points about that. First, you, Anthony Principi, it's my understanding that if a community has been on a blacklist before but avoided closure or realignment, that community should expect to be on that list again in the future.
PRINCIPIIt's possible. Certainly, I would not take it for granted, the fact that you were on a list and came off, that you will not be on again. The best thing a community can do is to understand the BRAC process, understand what they can do to ensure that their military installation is valuable to our country, to our national security, and do the things that are necessary to ensure that it's a place, a quality of life -- roads, access, schools, water, utilities are all in place to meet the future needs of our military.
NNAMDIAnd, Tim Ford, it's also my understanding that the National Capital Region might be feeling the biggest effect, even though Huntsville, Ala., San Antonio, Texas, Fort Riley in Kansas are examples as areas feeling anxious about BRAC. But this area is probably feeling the biggest effect.
FORDWell, I mean, if you take the larger National Capital Region all the way up to Baltimore, I mean, I think...
NNAMDIYeah, it's less.
FORD...the number of actions, I think, in this area probably have the broadest impact. But you -- it's -- here, it's, you know, some people might not see it or feel it every day. But if you're in a smaller community, like around Fort Riley where you're having a major influx, that becomes sort of the main show in town. And I think in a lot of places around the country, whether it's a growth situation or closure situation, I think there's always anxiety as this process moves forward.
NNAMDIMore about that later. Back to the telephones for now. Here is Anne in Alexandria, Va. Anne, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ANNEThank you. I would appreciate if the gentleman could clarify the BRAC law (unintelligible) 2005. Is there anything in the BRAC law that's -- my understanding is -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- that any BRAC sites must be within one mile of a Metro station. Obviously, the one here in Alexandria, the Mark Center is not. And there is major traffic transportation stuff. So can that be changed?
ANNEWho changes it? Who decides not to put it within one mile of a Metro and near Fort Belvoir?
NNAMDINow, let's find out whether that's fact or urban myth. Here is Tony Principi.
PRINCIPII'm afraid that is urban myth. There is no requirement, ma'am, that a Metro station be within one mile of a...
ANNEBut that's stated clearly in the BRAC law. So how was that change made for Alexandria that...
PRINCIPIThere is -- no, I'm sorry. There is no requirement in the law that you're referring to. And, you know, that probably -- well, one of the reasons the Mark Center was not a BRAC decision -- I would like to clarify that point.
NNAMDIOh, I'd like to talk a little bit...
NNAMDI...about the Mark Center since you brought that up.
NNAMDIThank you very much. The decision to move workers to the Mark Center was not part of BRAC 2005. Those 6,400 workers slated to move there were supposed, actually, to go to Fort Belvoir. Did you have any reason to suspect that Fort Belvoir would not be able to accommodate them?
PRINCIPIAbsolutely not, and I'm not sure they cannot accommodate them. Again, the decision on the Mark Center was made subsequent to the BRAC decision to move military personnel and federal workers out of lease space to a location that provided more force protection. And as it turns out, we have this decision that is, obviously, having a major, major impact on the community. But, again, that's one of the issues that the BRAC did not contemplate.
NNAMDIIt's the only aspect of the BRAC decision, it is my understanding, that didn't go through, that was overturned.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. Tim, many communities worry about losing a base, which can be an economic boom. But it seems like a lot of the current anxiety, at least around here in these parts, is a result of incoming jobs. Is this a case of people needing to be careful what we wish for?
FORDYeah, I mean, well, if you talk to closure communities, I'm sure they would love to be in that position. But, again, this is unique with this round of BRAC, that this was a very transformational BRAC in terms of DOD's footprint, and it really has a lot implications from transportation, to schools, to -- you name it. When you move a worker's -- like in this region, around to so many different places, it's going to have a profound impact, not just right now, but probably for the next 10 to 15 years.
NNAMDIWhat questions do you have about how BRAC decisions are made? Call us. Were you involved in the BRAC process, either as part of the commission with the Department of Defense or as a community advocate? Call us at 800-433-8850 or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Here we go to Dan in Alexandria, Va. Dan, your turn.
DANThank you, Kojo. My partner is a civilian attorney for the Air Force. His office recently moved from Rosslyn to Andrews Air Force Base. A large part of this office's work involves meetings with attorneys and such in downtown D.C., which, of course, used to be just a few minutes Metro ride. Now, they're finding that a simple meeting can consume almost an entire day with the driving back and forth and the parking and such.
DANI'm wondering if this kind of loss of productivity was ever considered in moving the bases. And another thing that found -- we've found odd is, as your guest said a moment ago, part of BRAC involved increased security for the federal offices. But we always thought it a bit odd that they would be moving all these hundreds of extra people onto the base where the president's airplane lands and takes off.
NNAMDIHere's Tony Principi.
PRINCIPIWell, certainly, enhancing productivity and not detracting from productivity was a goal of the BRAC Commission. Of course, let me state that, you know, there are eight criteria in the BRAC law that we're required to follow, four of which, the most important of which are military value, operational effectiveness, the ability to search, the ability to have available land and space for training.
PRINCIPIThose are the criteria that we really had to give highest priority to. Then there were four more criteria that we didn't ignore. Certainly, they're very important. They were secondary to military value that deal with the economic impact, environmental considerations. But, no, if someone who's an attorney in Rosslyn is meeting with attorneys and others in Rosslyn is moved out to Andrews Air Force Base, now, I can't explain that. So, to me, that's irrational.
PRINCIPIBut, I mean, I am not saying it was that -- that was a BRAC decision. A BRAC decision may have been to close down leased space at a certain location and move those resources to a military base, whether it be Fort Belvoir. But, you know, we did not decide that this attorney would be going out to Andrews.
DANWell, I do know it was a leased space, but I also know they had to build a new building at Andrews to accommodate them.
PRINCIPII -- again, that's a Defense issue. I'm sorry.
NNAMDIIt's not a BRAC issue. The Commission visited 173 installations and conducted 20 regional hearings, 20 legislative hearings, met with hundreds of community representatives and elected officials. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Dan, thank you for your call. Here is Diane in Alexandria, Va. Diane, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DIANEYes. Good afternoon. Question about the Mark Center site. It's pretty difficult to understand the decision to move people from Metro-accessible sites to Fort Belvoir. Granted they could fit on Fort Belvoir. Getting there and getting out of there is the question. And in the interest of transparency, who was ultimately responsible for choosing the Mark Center site? Thank you.
PRINCIPII don't know who is responsible in the Congress or in the Defense Department for choosing the Mark site. Again, this was post-BRAC. BRAC had nothing to do with Mark Center. Our decision, again, as we considered the criteria established in the BRAC law, unless we found that there was significant deviation from those criteria, by law, we accepted the recommendation.
PRINCIPIAnd with regard to Fort Belvoir, there were a lot of factories taken into consideration to move our military and civilian workers there out of leased space. And, you know, transportation needs, things of those nature, indeed, were considered by the Defense Department when they made the recommendations to BRAC. And they have a responsibility, I believe, to ensure that those needs are met.
NNAMDIDiane, thank you very much for your call. You, too, can call us at 800-433-8850. We'll be taking a short break. But when we come back, we will continue this conversation.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to know more about all things BRAC, you can visit the website wamu.org/news/brac, where you'll find links to our BRAC series, all of the WAMU newsrooms' BRAC reports and a map of the projects underway in our area. 800-433-8850, if you have any questions or comments about the BRAC process and how BRAC decisions were made. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation we call the basics of BRAC. We're talking with Anthony Principi. He was chairman of the 2005 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission. He also served as secretary of Veterans Affairs from 2001 to 2005. Also joining us in studio is Tim Ford. Tim is CEO of the Association of Defense Communities, ADC.
NNAMDIHe's been working on the impacts of base closure, base redevelopment and community military partnerships since the year 1999. Speaking of which, Tim, what advice do you have for communities that were on the BRAC list last time but didn't close as they look ahead to the next round?
FORDWell, I mean, we are now, you know, pretty far out from BRAC 2005. And I think communities, all communities, not just if they were on the BRAC list, I think have remained engaged. Because part of what happens is missions changed, and, you know, Ellsworth Air Force Base is a prime example where it now has a mission with UAVs that it did not have, you know, unmanned aerial vehicles that did not have previously.
FORDSo communities try to figure out -- they try to deal some of their negative issues, but they also look at where are the missions that are going to put them in a good position moving forward.
NNAMDIHow was this round of BRAC different from previous iterations, Tony Principi?
PRINCIPIWell, I think, as I alluded to earlier, Kojo, I think this was really about transformation. Cost saving was important, you know, getting -- lowering the amount of excess infrastructure was very important, but this was about jointness, about more operational efficiency consolidations. And that permeated a lot of these recommendations. It was like a domino effect.
PRINCIPIYou close one military installation or realign it, and it would impact five or eight or 10 other military installations. And that's when I say there were 190 major recommendations. But then when we opened up those recommendations, there were 100 -- 800, over 800 distinct actions that had to take place. So we would move bombers out of one location, and they would move to another location.
PRINCIPIThe aircraft there would be moving to several other different locations. The Air National Guard, lots of movements of Air National Guard issues would -- became very difficult because National Guard issue -- assets are federal government and state government-controlled. In case of an emergency, the governor has access. So we had to analyze all of these recommendations and come up with the best decisions.
NNAMDIAnother thing that was different this round was the United States' involvement in ongoing wars. How did Iraq and Afghanistan affect your decisions?
PRINCIPIThat was a very, very important point. We had two wars ongoing, and we had to understand the manpower implications of that. As those forces would return to various locations from overseas and redeployment of other assets into combat theaters, again, the 70,000 troops that were determined to return from European and Asian bases, all of those came into play.
NNAMDITim Ford, an analyst with the Libertarian Lexington Institute said that now is that time to consider, quoting here, "the mother of all BRAC rounds." The last round was big. Do you think the next round will be even bigger?
FORDWell, we don't know if there'll be a next round. There, you know, the legislation that allowed the 2005 round has expired. There is an authority right now to do it. I think that most experts feel that at some point, we will be looking at another round of BRAC. It might not look exactly the same. But, clearly, DOD is going through a period where they're going to be looking at budget cuts. They're going to be looking at efficiencies.
FORDAnd it's hard to imagine, looking five years out from now, that that won't have an impact on the infrastructure at some point. So there is definitely a possibility. Some of the services, the Air Force in particular, has been very clear that they have excess capacity right now.
FORDBut getting a BRAC is a -- getting BRAC legislation passed is a political issue. And you have to look at patterns of presidential elections, congressional elections to figure out, you know, when is that political moment that the Congress would be willing to vote on this? Because it's not a great thing, especially coming out of recession to -- for some, to vote to move ahead with base closures.
NNAMDII'm glad you mentioned recession because the time has come to talk money. We'll start with Jacob in Mitchellville, Md. Jacob, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JACOBYes. I would like to ask your guest, how much money is being saved through BRAC? And will that money be used to offset the deficit?
NNAMDII'm glad you brought that up because we got an email from Diane in Montgomery County, who says, "Where is the evidence that BRAC saves money? And if so, how much?" We got another email from an individual who says, "I'm a senior military officer with involvement in two BRAC actions. Sometimes BRAC is presented as a cost-savings program."
NNAMDI"The projected cost for the particular project on which I worked from DOD and passed on by the commission totaled $1 million. The actual cost for the project were nearly $12 million. Was my experience unusual?" Anthony, the DOD originally estimated BRAC '05 would save $47.8 billion over 20 years. The commission thought that net was a little bit, well, fuzzy and estimated that the savings would be significantly less. Can you explain, please?
PRINCIPIWell, certainly, and that is the correct figure that we received from DOD, $47.8 billion. Initially, we recommended an estimated savings of $35.6 billion rather than the $47.8 billion. However, in that number are a significant number of military personnel re-assignments that were part of this cost-saving. Now, these were not reductions from -- in strength in military personnel, but rather re-assignments of these military personnel.
PRINCIPIDOD chose to take savings for them. The Government Accountability Office and the BRAC Commission felt that if you eliminated all of those military personnel savings, the number is closer to $16 billion, $15.8 billion over 20 years. Again, I would say that this BRAC, as we've talked about, was as much about transformation -- if not more about transformation -- than cost savings. But the savings are far less than DOD originally estimated at $47.8 billion.
NNAMDITim Ford, sometimes you have to spend money to save money, and this certainly seems to be an example of that scenario. How much is BRAC costing the DOD?
FORDI don't have the total estimate, but, I mean, the cost has been significant. And, again, this was so different than previous rounds, where we did not have as much movement. We had closure. And there is evidence that previous rounds of closure actually did save money. But as the secretary said, this is a 20-year perspective, not an instant cost savings. But when you do shut down a base, you avoid a lot of costs in the future.
FORDSo we will eventually see cost savings from this. But this has had a significant price tag. But in other ways, that price tag has allowed for a significant transformation of our installation infrastructure around the country, which there was a lot of concerns that it was not at the level that we need it to be.
NNAMDIThe cost factor for you, Tony Principi. How do you see it?
NNAMDIWe have to look at it in the long-term?
PRINCIPIYou do. I think -- again, Tim, I think -- Tim made an excellent point. You have to look over the 20-year period. As you close a military installation, you're going to incur some upfront costs. That's just -- that's the way it is, to move resources and to shut down a military installation. But over the long term, you're going to save. The $15 billion that -- you know, if you back out all the military personnel savings that we discussed, those are net savings.
PRINCIPII mean, that's net. That's not gross. So, yes, there are savings and, hopefully, improvements in our national security posture.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call if you have questions about what we're calling BRAC basics. Were you involved in the BRAC process as a member of a community, an advocate, a part of the commission or with the Department of Defense? Call us at 800-433-8850 or send us a tweet, @kojoshow. Here is Char in Springfield, Va. Char, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NNAMDIYes, Char. Go right ahead.
CHARWell, I was just wondering if anybody took into consideration the traffic on U.S. 1 for, like, Fort Belvoir and -- because it's horrific right now. And so it's a new -- you know, with the closure and the additional people for appointments and their families. And, you know, and U.S. 1 is the exact same size it was five years ago. It hasn't been widened, and the traffic is horrific. How is that going to work out?
PRINCIPIIt's clearly an issue that the Defense Department should have taken into consideration, must take into consideration, must allocate the resources to improve the infrastructure, the transportation corridors in and out of Fort Belvoir, out Route 1 through 95. These are all very, very good questions.
PRINCIPIAnd, certainly, as we looked at them, you know, certainly the responsibility on the Defense Department, the Congress, to fund those improvements are critically important. And, you know, it's my expectation, my hope, that that's, in fact, going to -- going to happen.
NNAMDIIndeed, Tim Ford, it's my understanding that Fort Belvoir, Bethesda, a site in Texas did get federal dollars because they are housing hospitals.
FORDThere was money in the continuing resolution passed earlier this year that provided special funding to deal with transportation impacts. It's very -- it was -- originally, before the days when we still had earmarks, this would probably have been earmarked to specific projects. But instead it had to have a broader language. So it would most likely be directed at the sites you said. And there was also money in the same package to support some of the education needs.
FORDThere's many places. You know, Fort Riley, Kan., again, is an example, where the schools were completely inadequate to deal with the large number of individuals who are going to be showing up.
NNAMDIYou've been following proposals for a civilian BRAC pretty closely. Do you think that's the next big thing on the BRAC horizon?
FORDWell, just to explain what this is, and they -- they're calling it civilian BRAC, which is really to make sure it's clear that this would not involve Department of Defense property, that the federal government, looking at its own property footprint across the country, is trying to think through a process, potentially, to get rid of unneeded federal property and consolidate and create efficiencies.
FORDThis is still in Congress, but there is -- there's support in both parties and the White House for it. So we are -- we're tracking it to see how it might come about. But it would be a different process. But it would be more widespread because we're looking -- you know, they're looking at 14,000-plus properties around the country. So the chance of some impact in your community could be much higher.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that you might be testifying next week at a Senate hearing on this proposal.
FORDI actually am testifying this week at a Senate hearing on the -- on their -- the Senate is beginning their work on it. And the secretary...
NNAMDIWhy is Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton of the District of Columbia keeping a close eye on this?
FORDWell, you have to think, with the District, the federal presence is really important. And, you know, if this process moves forward, it could open the door for facilities to be shifted or moved. And I think Congresswoman Norton has been very adamant in trying to maintain the jobs here in the District, and is probably going to be fighting very hard to watch this process.
NNAMDITony Principi, it's my understanding that you are concerned also about routing this process to the Office of Management and Budget because there might not have the appropriate procedures in place.
PRINCIPII don't think so. I believe that the buck stops at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, that the president is ultimately responsible for making these decisions and forwarding them on to Congress. I have utmost respect for OMB and the tough work they have, and GSA does tremendous work. But, yeah, I do believe that the civilian BRAC should be a commission.
PRINCIPIThey should be confirmed by the -- the commissioner should be confirmed by the United States Senate. And whatever recommendations they make should go to the White House and then on to Congress.
NNAMDIWe've been having a conversation about BRAC basics. We'll be doing this every week. Next Monday, June 13, we'll be talking about what's likely to happen in Maryland, on June 20, what's happening in Virginia and on June 27, what's likely to happen in Washington, D.C., in the post-Walter Reed era.
NNAMDIJoining us in studio, Anthony Principi, who was chairman of the 2005 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission. He served as secretary of Veterans Affairs from 2001 to 2005. Tony Principi, thank you so much for joining us.
PRINCIPIThank you very much.
NNAMDITim Ford is the CEO of the Association of Defense Communities, ADC. He's been working on the impacts of base closure, base redevelopment and community-military partnership since 1999. Tim, thank you for joining us.
FORDGlad to be here, Kojo.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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