Retired Navy Capt. Brian Buzzell served on the Navy’s Base Structure Analysis Team for BRAC rounds in 1993 and 1995. His company, Creative Team Concepts, was the support contractor for the Base Closure Office of the Secretary of Defense in BRAC 2005. He wrote this commentary for U-T San Diego.
Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, is again a hot topic in Washington, D.C., as federal budget pressures increase.
Senior military leadership, both civilian and uniformed, have been testifying before Congress regarding excess capacity in their department’s installation infrastructure and requesting authority to conduct another round of BRAC.
All agree they have excess 20 percent infrastructure after completing the execution phase of the last BRAC, in 2005. To date, Congress is not buying their arguments.
So, do we need another BRAC round? Yes. Will Congress grant the authority? No, unless something in the future convinces them otherwise.
Should Congress grant BRAC authority, how would the San Diego region fare? Would San Diego be a net gainer in job creation, as in past BRAC rounds, or a net loser in jobs, as military bases are closed or realigned. After all, this is the point of BRAC: the elimination of no-longer-needed real estate or facilities to support a mission that can better be performed elsewhere or not at all. It means hundreds of millions of local dollars, if not billions in the case of San Diego.
The BRAC rounds of 1988, 1991, 1993, 1995 and 2005 resulted in some 500 closure and realignments ultimately saving the Department of Defense billions of dollars in annual costs.
San Diego was hardest hit in 1993, when the Navy determined it only required one initial enlisted training boot camp and Naval Training Center San Diego was closed.
Initially, the economic impact of this BRAC action hurt the local economy. However, with close cooperation between the Navy and the city of San Diego, Liberty Station has become a dynamic generator of economic activity for the city. There is life after BRAC as shown in Charleston, S.C., which lost its huge naval base in 1993.
I wrote an article for the May issue of Naval Institute Proceedings arguing that Congress should not grant BRAC authority unless the process — how the military services determine which bases to close or realign — is substantially altered. A key element of the changes I propose is an exclusion list at the beginning of the BRAC process.
Should this one suggestion be adopted in a future BRAC round, many San Diego military installations would be on this exclusion list. Why? Because San Diego is the home for many “non-reconstitutable military assets,” and prior BRAC rounds have protected, not closed, and realigned military missions into these bases from bases that were deemed “reconstitutable assets.” A “reconstitutable asset” is a base, like an air field or administrative facility, that can easily be acquired from other sources in case of a national emergency.
The sprawling Naval Base San Diego is a perfect example of a “non-reconstitutable asset.” It is a deep-water port with quick access to open water. Likewise, Naval Base Coronado qualifies, with its nuclear-capable carrier berths and specialized SEAL training facilities. Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, although a “reconstitutable asset,” most likely would make the list primarily due to the consolidation of Marine Corps aviation assets at Miramar in the late 1990s and its close proximity to the Southern California operating areas.
Other local bases would most likely not make the list for a variety of reasons. But that doesn’t mean they would close, there would just be a more rigorous analysis to determine their future.
A second recommendation that I have advocated is returning to military value based on military judgment as the primary factor for BRAC recommendations. Again the San Diego area would do very well if left to military judgment. However, prior BRAC rounds suggest military value can be eroded by excess capacity in a mission area, encroachment and environmental restrictions. There are several installations or facilities in the San Diego area that have declining military value.
For example, Naval Base Point Loma’s primary function is support of our nuclear submarine forces. Since the 1990s, our submarine fleet has declined dramatically, however, no submarine base has closed. Likewise, the Marine Corps operates two initial enlisted training boot camps in a declining personnel force structure, while the Air Force and Navy, which train far larger numbers of recruits each year, each have only one. These two examples illustrate where once military value was quite high, keeping the base from closure, now the Navy and Marine Corps leadership will need to take a closer look in the declining fiscal environment.
BRAC must benefit the warfighters first; in doing so, it will benefit the nation as well. My experience with communities in prior BRAC rounds is they are proud and supportive of their military presence. San Diego is no different. But every dollar spent on unneeded infrastructure support is a dollar not spent on equipping and training our military. This is why we have BRAC.
In the end I believe San Diego will continue to be a strategic focus for our military leaders. As a retired Navy captain, father of a daughter employed by the local defense industry, married to a Marine pilot in San Diego, I thank you for being one of the best cities in the country for our military members. The great success of the military/community involvement is an example to others.