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Additional Criteria Are Needed for BRAC

For many months, communities across the nation have been nervously awaiting the news from the Bush administration about which military bases it proposes to close in the current round of the Base Realignment and Closing process. The anxiety is with good reasons. The administration has called this round the “mother of all BRACs” and suggested that the Pentagon intends to eliminate as much as 25 percent of its infrastructure as part of Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s so-called “transformation plan.”

The administration’s proposed list of closings, to be announced this week, is critically important. A nine-member BRAC Commission, appointed last month, will analyze and modify the proposed list during the summer and recommend the final list, which Congress must then approve or reject on an all-or-nothing basis. In previous BRAC rounds, commissioners made few changes in the administration’s list, and the vast majority of the bases on the initial list were closed.

So far, we’ve seen very little evidence of major changes in the Defense Department’s approach. The broad criteria the Pentagon is using to develop the initial list are largely the same as in the past. The department is evaluating current and future mission capabilities of each base and its impact on force readiness; the availability and condition of land, facilities and airspace at such locations; the ability to accommodate contingency, mobilization and surge requirements; and the cost of such operations. These are important factors that must be taken into account. But additional criteria are clearly needed to reflect a deeper understanding of the challenges facing America’s armed forces in this new century.

In particular, many of us in Congress are concerned that the traditional criteria are no longer sufficient to evaluate the increasingly high-tech aspects of our forces, which are the linchpin of the Rumsfeld transformation plan and are essential in providing our troops with the best, most modern equipment, from the body armor they wear, to communications networks that provide indispensable intelligence, to the medical technology that helps them survive.

Past BRAC criteria were ineffective in assessing these high-tech aspects of modern bases. For this purpose, it is largely irrelevant that a facility has training space for maneuver battalions, or airspace for fighter wings. In the 1995 BRAC round, Hanscom Air Force Base, which produces command and control technology for the Air Force, was evaluated according to the length of its runway and the Navy evaluated its labs based on its work-year capacity, without distinguishing between routine technicians and star scientists or between oceanographers and nuclear physicists.

The success or failure of a base in fulfilling this mission and producing new generations of military technology depends on a complex variety of factors such as the availability of skilled and experienced personnel to develop and manage new technologies, and the availability of nearby intellectual clusters to foster high-tech achievements. Modern technological advances are typically generated in areas with high concentrations of such talent in both the public and private sectors, and few current bases can top these high-tech resources effectively.

Unlike other military assets, the scientists and technicians who contribute so much to a base’s success do not move with the mission if the base is closed. Relocations and closures in such cases may well cause severe disruptions and delays in the development of needed military technologies. BRAC closures obviously shouldn’t damage our immediate national security or our long-term ability to meet new military threats.

As the administration, the BRAC Commission and Congress review the list of proposed closings, we cannot ignore the department’s future needs and our ability to develop new technologies. We must look carefully at how the department evaluates these high-tech aspects of each of our current bases. Did they assess a base’s ability to recruit and retain the educated and skilled personnel required for advanced technical work? Did they consider a base’s access to the research and development resources, such as the availability of effective industrial and academic partners and convenient access to commercial technologies? Did they consider how reorganizing these research and development centers will affect the future of many of the department’s complex high-tech acquisition programs?

Only if they weigh these factors effectively can the current BRAC fulfill its mission. This time, it can’t be BRAC business as usual.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) is ranking member of the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on sea power.

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