Official Defends BRAC Funding Request on Hill
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 21, 2007 The latest round of the Base Realignment and Closure process is the most extensive, transformational round the nation has ever seen, and will require full funding to implement, a senior Defense Department official said here yesterday.
Philip W. Grone, deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment, told a House Appropriations Committee panel that this round of BRAC involves 24 major base closures, 24 major realignments, more than 760 other discrete actions, and supports the repositioning of U.S. forces worldwide.
Calling it “a fairly extensive and important BRAC round,” Grone said the question of cost is “a critically important one.”
DoD asked for $8.2 billion for BRAC implementation in its fiscal 2008 budget request. This bumps the estimated five-year cost for BRAC implementation up to $30.8 billion, a more than 60 percent increase from last year’s estimate of $18.3 billion.
One of the reasons for the increase is that this BRAC round is 75 percent military construction, Grone said. The construction costs inflate as the program goes from analysis into implementation, he explained. Also, he said, additional requirements have surfaced, such as the Army’s need to improve quality of life for soldiers and families, and additional training ranges.
Included in the BRAC recommendations is the decision to close Walter Reed Army Medical Center and consolidate it with the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Recently publicized problems with outpatient care and bureaucracy for wounded troops at Walter Reed have sparked some debate about whether that decision should be overturned and Walter Reed should remain open.
In the budget request, about $481 million is allocated for the construction at Bethesda and a new hospital at Fort Belvoir, Va., Grone said. Keeping Walter Reed open would save that money initially, but would have a negative long-term effect on the estimated savings the consolidation would have, he said.
“The recommendation is estimated to save $170 million annually,” Grone said. “So if we were to keep in the status-quo environment, we would forego savings that could be better put back into the mission that we know are being inefficiently expended today in the management of the entirety of the catchment area.”
Grone noted that this BRAC round allowed DoD officials to think about positioning forces where they would best fit, as opposed to where there was room. Also, he said, it allowed a comprehensive look at force structure from a joint perspective.
“Forty percent of the recommendations we will carry out affect more than one component,” he said. “And that's not just a question of whether it affects the active Army and the Army Reserve. It's a question of whether it affects the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marine Corps, defense agencies, missions that are complex, missions that are truly joint.”