Overseas panel, Pentagon fail to resolve cost differences over moving personnel

Members of the Overseas Base Commission and Pentagon policy officials Monday failed to resolve vast differences in cost estimates and other lingering uncertainties associated with moving tens of thousands of military personnel out of Europe, Korea and elsewhere around the globe.

The independent panel and the Defense officials were unable to arrive at a concrete cost figure for the massive move, considered the most sweeping military reorganization since the 1940s.

But the commission did get a better look at the department's $9 billion to $12 billion estimate -- a low figure compared to the $20-plus-billion price tag the commission placed on the move, Commission Chairman Al Cornella told reporters Monday.

The Pentagon number deals only with one-time costs, while the commission's figure includes recurring costs that will arise over the next two decades.

"Each understands each other's estimates," Cornella said.

However, commissioners voiced some concern that the Pentagon has not set aside enough money to fund the relocation, with only $4 billion budgeted for it through 2011.

If the department fails to accurately identify costs and fully fund the move, the government will have three options -- all bad, said Commissioner Keith Martin, a retired Army National Guard brigadier general.

Services either will be forced to pay for the move out of their transformation and readiness accounts, Congress will need to appropriate supplemental funds or the troops "move anyway, at the cost of additional strain," Martin said.

During the meeting, Pentagon officials told the commission the breadth of the move, once expected to affect 70,000 military personnel, might be narrowed somewhat, Cornella said. The department now expects to move only 61,000 troops out of Europe and Asia. That number, however, is in flux and expected to change.

The commission requested the meeting in a June 30 memo to Pentagon policy chief Douglas Feith, demanding more information about the cost of the move and how the department intends to budget and pay for it over the next several years.

Aside from cost figures, the commission also asked for more details about how domestic bases would handle the flood of troops from overseas, as well as any international agreements to host new installations abroad.

Commissioners walked away from the meeting satisfied that the Pentagon is adequately addressing ways to expand infrastructure and otherwise handle quality-of-life issues at the "receiving installations," Cornella said.

However, the chairman said he still foresees quality-of-life problems for personnel and families moving back to the United States, including inadequate housing and overcrowded schools.

"Forces are already moving and the infrastructure is not in place," he said. Pentagon officials "expressed their concern over the same issue."

The overseas base moves affect the Army far more than any other military branch, and the service has a plan in place to deal with the troop movement, said Commissioner H.G. (Pete) Taylor, a retired Army lieutenant general.

"The question is, will they get it funded?" he added.

Defense officials told the military services they could expect to spend $4 billion on the overseas personnel moves and military construction costs over the next five years. The Army would bear the brunt of those costs, about $3.6 billion.

But the Army's figure has grown substantially in the last several weeks and the other services are now devising new cost estimates to relocate their troops.

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