I am often asked if I really think Travis Air Force Base is at risk from another round of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) decisions or by other government actions.
Implied in the tone of the question is doubt, based on the knowledge that Travis has enjoyed years of infrastructure investments and the acquisition of new missions. Why be concerned when the base sits in a strategic location on the Pacific Coast with abundant training and operational air space, redundant access to aviation fuel, access to water and aerial ports with a never-ending demand for its capabilities in conflict and humanitarian response?
While I readily agree that Travis is sound, these are not normal times.
The economy is dreadfully weak and there is a sleeping giant in the room — the national debt — which is now approaching $14.4 trillion and is projected to nearly equal the annual Gross Domestic Product by 2020. That will mean one in every five dollars spent by the government will be consumed just to pay off the debt.
The details of the recent agreement to reduce the deficit are unfolding, but one cannot escape the implications. Discretionary spending, according to the Congressional Budget Office, comprises less than a quarter of government outlays. The rest is “mandated” by various entitlement programs. Of the discretionary amount, half goes to the Department of Defense. The easiest cuts are clearly in defense, because its constituencies are nowhere near as strong as those of entitlements.
In fact, during the second round of anticipated cuts, many federal benefit programs will be sheltered, including Social Security, Medicaid and veterans and federal retirement benefits.
A war-weary nation will likely see the return of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and conclude the nation can use this “peace dividend” to stem spiraling indebtedness.
Never mind the need to rebuild the Army, Navy, Marine, Air Force and reserve forces after more than two decades of the most prolonged and highest military operations tempo in our nation’s history.
Air Force Chief of Staff Norton Schwartz has said the Air Force has 20 percent more infrastructure than it needs. Will that mean more consolidation of operating bases? The Air Force simply may have no choice, with or without BRAC. Recently, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates shuttered the Joint Forces Command in Hampton Roads, Va., without BRAC, putting more than 2,000 people out of work.
A tough challenge for all military installations will be the ability to maintain infrastructure with declining funds. A decade or so of deferred operations and maintenance investment can make a once top-notch installation mediocre by comparison and, hence, a candidate for realignment or closure. Military construction projects also will be much harder to get in this environment.
Travis currently is in a seemingly good position to accommodate additional missions and people, should these consolidations materialize. But that requires constant vigilance and focus on what is happening on Capitol Hill and at the Pentagon.
The job of the Travis Community Consortium (TCC) is to ensure that we stay on top of the issues and read the minds of the decision-makers. TCC was formed before the most recent BRAC round. It pooled the resources of Solano County, its seven cities, the Travis Regional Armed Services Committee, Solano Community College, Solano Economic Development Corp. and the region’s businesses to employ the services of Madison Government Affairs in Washington D.C.
Madison has been our eyes and ears in the Pentagon and on the Hill. Indicative of its work was getting the full California delegation to sign a letter urging the Air Force to bring a new small-training aircraft to Travis to provide training for Latin American military partners.
Travis Credit Union recently joined the consortium. Cities still members of TCC are Fairfield, Dixon, Suisun and Vacaville.
These coming months and years will surely test our government institutions at local, state and federal levels. With an annual economic impact $1.5 billion and the largest employer in Solano County, Travis remains the most important asset to this region because nearly everything is affected by it. Now, more than ever, the TCC and community awareness are critical to our future.