WASHINGTON, March 15, 2013 – The Defense Department has more real estate than it needs in the United States and abroad, a senior DOD official told a House panel yesterday.
Another round of base realignments and closings should be an essential part of any overall strategy for reshaping the military, John Conger, the acting deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment, told the House Armed Services Committee in prepared testimony.
“Force structure is declining relative to that which existed in 2005, thereby continuing to add to aggregate excess capacity,” Conger said, noting that the U.S. Army is reducing its active duty end strength from 570,000 to 490,000 by 2020, and the Marine Corps from about 202,000 to 182,000.
“If we assume our bases were either appropriately loaded or were carrying excess capacity,” he said, “these force reductions will increase that surplus.”
In last year’s budget request, the Pentagon asked Congress for permission to initiate two more rounds of base closings, under what is known as BRAC, the Base Realignment and Closure authority. Conger said the last round of BRAC closings, in 2005, produced $4 billion in annual recurring savings. He stopped short of saying whether a request for another round will be included in the Obama Administration’s FY14 budget, which is expected to be delivered to Congress in the coming days, but left no doubt he believes there is excess installation capacity.
By law, under the BRAC process, an independent commission submits to Congress a list of military installations it believes should be closed or realigned, with lawmakers and the president then required to approve or reject the recommendations without change.
Conger referred to a 2004 DOD study which he said found the military had 24 percent excess capacity “and that the BRAC 2005 recommendations reduced capacity by only 3.4 percent.”
The Defense Department is examining further reductions in U.S. military bases in Europe, where Conger said more than 100 sites have already been returned to host governments since 2003, and where no authority from Congress is required for recommending additional closures.
“By the end of this year, we plan to conclude with a fully vetted list of options from which the Secretary [of Defense] can make strategic decisions for eliminating excess, preserving and even enhancing our ability to meet strategic and operational commitments,” Conger said in his prepared remarks.
The U.S. Army already plans to close 33 additional sites in Europe associated with the decision to reduce brigade combat teams based on the continent.