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By Sean Gorman May 15, 2015

Rob Wittman says 2005 BRAC round of base closings hasn't led to savings

U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman is trying to thwart the Pentagon’s efforts to begin a new round of military base closing.

There have been five rounds of closures in recent decades, starting in the late 1980s as the Soviet Union collapsed and the U.S. military retooled for a post-Cold War mission. The last round took place in 2005 and talk of new spate is worrying congressmen who have bases in their districts.

Wittman, a Republican, represents Virginia’s 1st District which includes the Army’s Fort A.P. Hill and the Marine base in Quantico. He recently questioned whether a new round of the Base Realignment and Closure program -- known as BRAC -- made strategic and economic sense.

"We cannot forget that the 2005 BRAC round has not yet resulted in savings," he stated in an April 30 news release.

We checked to see if he was right about the lacking of savings.

Gordon Neal, Wittman’s spokesman, sent us a 2009 report from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office that examined the bottom line of the 2005 BRAC, which shuttered 24 bases, realigned 24 others and eliminated about 12,000 civilian jobs.

Calculations in the report were based on a Pentagon estimate that the 2005 BRAC would save Uncle Sam $3.9 billion a year -- an estimate that the GAO said is probably high.

The GAO also noted that the military spent $35 billion implementing BRAC, far above the original $21 billion estimate. For example, it cost $1.7 billion more than expected to close Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington and move its operations to Fort Belvoir, Va. and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

A chart in the report shows the annual savings started in 2006, but those economies weren’t expected to be enough to pay off the upfront costs of BRAC until 2018, five years later than originally projected.

The GAO updated its analysis in 2012 and found that the savings and cost estimates were still about the same. That’s the last time the agency did a cost analysis of the 2005 BRAC.

"So 2018 should still be about the time that the savings would exceed the cost," Brian Lepore,  GAO’s director of defense capabilities and management, wrote in an email.

We spoke to two defense budget analysts and they both told us that Wittman’s statement is correct that the U.S. hasn’t yet pocketed "net savings" from the realignment.

But that doesn’t mean the program isn’t paying off. Todd Harrison, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said the last round of BRAC is producing savings but, for the moment, they’re going towards recovering the costs of implementing the program.

"We are going to hit the break even point, and after that it’s all savings," Harrison told us.

Harrison was among nearly 40 defense analysts who late last month signed a letter supporting the Pentagon’s call for another round of closings, saying there are surplus military installations around the nation.

Harrison said Wittman’s use of the 2005 BRAC to argue against another round is off base.

The last realignment round was different from the four that came in the 1980s and 1990s, Harrison said, because it focused much more heavily on base consolidations than previous rounds that were mostly directed at merely shuttering facilities. Consolidations are more expensive, he said, because they entail moving operations from one place to another, which means buildings have to be constructed.

In 2012, Dorothy Robyn, then deputy under secretary of defense, made the same point in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee.

"In short, the 2005 round took place during a period of growth in the military, and it reflected the goals and needs of that time. Because the focus was on transforming installations to better support forces -- as opposed to saving money and space -- it is a poor gauge of the savings that the Department can achieve through another BRAC round," she stated in written testimony.

Robyn said the previous BRAC rounds in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995 totaled $8 billion in annual savings.

Our ruling

Wittman said that the 2005 BRAC round has "not resulted in savings."

Savings are coming in every year, but they haven’t yet reached the break-even point of paying back the costs of BRAC. That’s expected to happen in 2018 and, after that, the money can be used for other purposes.

Wittman’s statement is missing important information and creates a faulty impression that the 2005 BRAC has been a loser.

On the whole, we rate his claim Half True.

Our Sources

Rep. Rob Wittman, "Wittman supports committee passage of National Defense Authorization Act of 2016," 4/30/2015

Emails from Gordon Neal, spokesman for Rep. Rob Wittman, May 5-6. 2015.

Interview with Todd Harrison, senior fellow at the Center on Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, May 6, 2015.

Voice mail from Michael E. O’Hanlon, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, May 5, 2015.

Email from Brian Lepore, director of defense capabilities and management at the Government Accountability Office, March 6, 2015.

Government Accountability Office, "Key factors contributing to BRAC 2005 results," March 8, 2012.

Government Accountability Office, "Military Base Realignments and closures: Estimated costs have increased while savings estimates have decreases since fiscal year 2009," Nov. 13, 2009.

Government Accountability Office, "Updated costs and savings estimates from BRAC 2005," June 2012.

Government Accountability Office, "Opportunities exist to improve future base and realignment closure rounds," May 7, 2013.

Congressional Research Service, "Economic Development Assistance for communities affected by employment changes due to military base closures (BRAC)," June 16, 2009.

Dorothy Robyn, the U.S. deputy under secretary of defense, testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, March 8, 2012.

Brookings, "Saving Defense dollars: From Base Realignment and Closure to overhead realignment and closure," Oct. 14, 2013.

Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, "Thirty-eight think tank experts urge defense reform," April 29, 2015.

American Forces Press Service, "BRAC offers unmatched cost savings, Pentagon officials says," March 21, 2012.

American Forces Press Service, "DOD need new base closure round, senior official says," May 12, 2014.

Politico, "The delicate matter of base closures," March 18, 2013.

Stars and Stripes, "HASC amendment would prohibit another BRAC round," May 9, 2012.

Federal News Radio, "With or without BRAC, DoD’s footprint is shrinking," April 8, 2015.

National Public Radio, "When will closing Walter Reed pay off? Maybe 2018," Aug. 15, 2011.

The U.S. Army, "2014 Green Book: The costly consequences of excess Army infrastructure and overhead," Sept. 30, 2014.

Michael Barone, The Almanac of American Politics, 2006.

The Washington Post, "On the way to BRAC savings, a legion of cost overruns," July 4, 2012.

The Daily Press, "2005 BRAC: Cost more, saved less than estimated," July 29, 2012.

Government Accountability Office, "Military Base Realignments and Closures: Estimated costs have increased and estimated savings have decreased," Dec. 12, 2007.

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