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Panetta: DOD-Community Partnerships Essential in Austerity

By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service

MONTEREY, Calif., Aug. 6, 2012 – Partnerships between the Defense Department and civilian communities always have been important, but are essential in a challenging fiscal environment, Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said here today.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta addresses audience members during the Association of Defense Communities' annual conference in Monterey, Calif., Aug. 6, 2012. DOD photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley
  

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

In a keynote address at the Association of Defense Communities conference, Panetta announced that two communities will receive grants under a $300 million congressional appropriation for transportation infrastructure improvements in communities affected by the 2005 round of base realignments and closures.

One grant will provide the city of Lakewood, Wash., with $5.7 million for improvements to the Freedom Bridge overpass near Madigan Army Medical Center. Montgomery County, Md., will receive $40 million for improvements to pedestrian, bicycle and public transportation access around the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Panetta said the grants represent a commitment to working with communities affected by base realignments and closures.

In his 16 years in Congress, the secretary said, he became deeply familiar with the full range of issues affecting defense communities. When Fort Ord, Calif., was designated for closure in 1991, he added, it presented the most difficult challenge of his career in Congress. He credited collaboration between the military and local communities with finding an appropriate reuse of the land that once represented 25 percent of the community’s jobs. The effort overcame “incredible, complicated, and sometimes nonsensical bureaucracy,” he said.

“Out of crisis, this community developed an opportunity to allow our area to succeed in the face of this difficult challenge,” he added.

Proposals ran the gamut from theme parks to prisons, Panetta said, but military and civilian leaders ultimately agreed on the site’s fate.

“All of us felt that probably the best centerpiece we could have for the reuse of that area was to be able to locate a campus of the university system there,” Panetta said, adding that the site is now home to California State University Monterey Bay. The Fort Ord Dunes State Park, residential subdivisions, a veterans’ transition center and a nature preserve also occupy the area today. In April, President Barack Obama signed a proclamation designating a 14,651-acre portion of the former post as the Fort Ord National Monument.

The Fort Ord experience, Panetta said, serves as an appropriate backdrop to the “very real fiscal crisis” facing the Defense Department and defense communities as the nation emerges from a decade of war only to face severe budget cuts. Regardless of whether more realignments and closures are forthcoming, he said, the Defense Department is going to have to look at basing infrastructure as it seeks to reduce overhead costs.

The first four BRAC rounds, Panetta said, are producing $8 billion in annual savings, and a comparable figure from the 2005 BRAC round is $4 billion. He acknowledged that unfinished business remains from previous BRAC rounds, and pledged to work to resolve remaining concerns.

Meanwhile, the Defense Department must continue to seek innovative ways to work with communities to advance shared interests, Panetta said, particularly when that cooperation can reduce costs.

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