The Army needs another round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) in 2017 to reduce excess infrastructure and optimize the force under budgetary constraints, said the Army’s assistant secretary for installations, energy and environment.
"We are going to have to reduce our end strength further," said Katherine G. Hammack, speaking at the Association of the U.S. Army’s monthly Institute of Land Warfare Breakfast in Arlington, Va., April 14.
"We’re committed to get down to 490,000 soldiers [in the active component] by 2015, and 450,000 by 2017. The budget reality may cause a drop as low as 420,000. We haven’t been significantly below 500,000 since World War II. We are going to have an incredibly small Army, with a whole lot of responsibility," she added.
During World War II, Army end strength was 8.3 million, and construction of military facilities was geared to support training for a force of that size.
The cost to maintain these facilities is about $3 a square foot, Hammack explained.
That "empty space tax" equates to roughly $500 million a year – not including operation costs, gate guards, and other expenses necessary to keep an installation open.
As the Army’s end strength and force structure decline alongside its available funding, hundreds of millions of dollars will be wasted maintaining underutilized buildings and infrastructure.
One way for the Army to optimize its infrastructure is Base Realignment and Closure.
"One installation might have empty warehouses, another might have empty barracks, and a third might have office buildings. When you do that consolidation analysis, you stop maintaining half-full installations and return excess infrastructure to the community," Hammack said.
What does BRAC involve?
"A BRAC is a statutory process, established by Congress to do base realignments and closures in a thoughtful, analytic, fair, and transparent manner," said Hammack.
Following an analysis of each installation based on military capability and available capacity, a series of recommendations are provided to a commission for a vote.
"This summer, we will start holding ‘listening sessions’ at each installation to gather input from the locals," she added.
Prior rounds of BRAC, which took place between 1988 and 2005, are providing the Army roughly $2 billion in savings every year, Hammack said.
Additionally, the BRAC process provides more community control, allowing local leaders to develop plans for property re-use while balancing the interests of the community.
Hammack stressed that without BRAC authority, budget cuts must be taken from another resource pool. She illustrated that military personnel, modernization, and research and development are already shrinking under the reduced budget.
Cuts to compensation and benefits, including medical care, have been blocked by Congress.
Training and readiness have been scaled back; further reductions would cause a less capable "hollow force," and could potentially jeopardize national security and put the force at risk.
A "hollow force" Army is one that could appear mission ready, but upon examination suffers from shortages of personnel and equipment, as well as deficiencies in training.
On April 2, Hammack addressed the Senate Armed Services Committee to ask for additional BRAC authorization.
"I told the senators, ‘Our strategy is to consolidate on larger, more capable installations, divest older and inadequate infrastructure and invest in the remaining footprint in order to provide adequate facilities to accomplish our mission, while meeting the needs of our soldiers and their families,’" she said.
Adding, "Without BRAC, you are going to have empty installations, soldiers moving out of the area, and the community has no opportunity to re-use or put those empty buildings back into the taxpayer base. It’s a constant drain on our budgets."
AUSA support needed
Hammack concluded her remarks by asking for support from AUSA.
"We need your support. As the Association of the U.S. Army, we need you to be advocates for us, to help us do the right thing. We need your support to recognize that when we have savings in infrastructure, we can put that money into modernization. We can help invest in training; we can help invest in equipping. Otherwise, everyone’s budget is drained unnecessarily," she said.
"The money is already gone. The budgets are shrunk. A BRAC enables us to live within the budgets that we have been given by Congress. Right now, we are trying to spread what resources we have across installations we don’t need."
Adding, "We need you to be advocates for another round of BRAC, because it will benefit the Army."