Defense races the clock on 2005 BRAC implementation

Community hospital project is part of ongoing BRAC programs at Fort Belvoir, Va. Community hospital project is part of ongoing BRAC programs at Fort Belvoir, Va. Marc Barnes/U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
The Defense Department has just 14 months left to meet the deadline for implementing the largest base realignment and closure plan in history. Contracting and construction delays have left no margin for further delays in the department's plans to relocate 123,000 personnel and execute hundreds of actions affecting more than 800 Defense locations by Sept. 15, 2011, according to a Government Accountability Office analysis.

What's more, the department is doing all this as it undertakes complex military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, restructures the Army, adds 92,000 ground troops to the ranks, and relocates to U.S. installations tens of thousands of personnel stationed overseas.

"All of these initiatives are exerting an unusually high demand on DoD's domestic facility infrastructure to accommodate new forces and existing forces being deployed or redeployed," said Brian Lepore, director of Defense capabilities and management at the Government Accountability Office, in a July 21 letter to key congressional committees.

GAO found Defense officials expect half of the 800 locations implementing BRAC recommendations will complete their actions in 2011, with 230 of them doing so in the final two weeks before the statutory deadline.

The 2005 BRAC itself is more ambitious than previous restructuring efforts because it focuses on transforming military operations, not just improving efficiency. "As opposed to simply closing bases, many of the BRAC 2005 recommendations involve complex realignments, such as designating where military forces returning to the United States from overseas bases would be located; establishing joint military medical centers; creating joint bases; and reconfiguring the defense supply, storage and distribution network," Lepore noted.

Defense has estimated it will spend $35 billion on the 2005 BRAC, far more than the $26 billion it spent to implement the four previous BRACs combined. But GAO auditors found the department isn't capturing the full cost associated with BRAC implementation.

For example, the Army had not fully reported costs for some things like temporary office space while permanent facilities are being built, and financial incentives offered to civilian employees to relocate.

"[Defense] officials do not have full visibility over the extent of these costs funded from outside the BRAC account, given that the services prepare their own BRAC budget justification material," GAO said.

Six BRAC recommendations, three of which involve expansion at Fort Belvoir, Va., are of particular concern to department officials, GAO found:

  • The closure of Fort McPherson, Ga., and relocation of U.S. Army Forces Command and U.S. Army Reserve Command Headquarters to Fort Bragg, N.C.
  • Realignment of San Antonio Regional Medical Center functions and consolidation of enlisted medical training to Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
  • Relocation of various services and functions from Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington to Bethesda, Md., and Fort Belvior, Va.
  • Relocation of various Defense agencies and offices to Fort Belvoir, Va.
  • Relocation of various Army leased sites in the national capital region to Fort Belvoir, Va.
  • Relocation of medical command headquarters to a single contiguous site in the national capital region.
GAO noted the 2005 BRAC requires the Pentagon to relocate 19,300 military and civilian personnel to Fort Belvoir and involves 20 separate construction projects with an estimated cost of $4 billion. BRAC challenges at Fort Belvoir and other installations receiving large numbers of new personnel are exacerbated by concerns that local infrastructure, including roads, schools and medical facilities, cannot easily accommodate the influx.

Defense also faces significant personnel challenges. For example, many civilian employees are unable or unwilling to follow their jobs to new locations. In the Army, which is relocating headquarters for five commands under BRAC, officials are worried that BRAC might jeopardize support for ongoing military operations during a critical period. Navy officials told GAO very few employees have committed to moving to the Naval Air Weapons Station in China Lake, Calif., creating 1,000 vacancies at the new location, where distance from urban centers could make hiring more difficult. Attracting medical personnel to staff new facilities at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, is another concern, given the specialized nature of the positions and the department's slow civilian hiring system, officials told GAO.

The Defense Department concurred with GAO's assessment, and is following the watchdog's recommendation to more fully capture BRAC costs and report them to Congress.

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