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BRAC Will Protect Readiness Needs

No later than May 16 the secretary of Defense will release a list of U.S. military installations recommended for closure or realignment under the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure round.

For the hundreds of communities that host America’s military installations, the secretary’s recommendations represent the frightening prospect of dramatic change in their hometowns. For the United States military, the secretary’s recommendations represent both opportunity and risk. They are an opportunity to eliminate excess capacity and realign military functions more efficiently, but that opportunity is accompanied by the risk that the resulting changes could affect military readiness for many years to come.

Over the past several years, the House Armed Services Committee has worked to ensure that the 2005 BRAC round is conducted in the nation’s best interests. These efforts have included provisions to delay the BRAC round until 2007, to establish a baseline military force that would be used to determine the amount of infrastructure retained after this BRAC round, and to ensure that post-BRAC military infrastructure is capable of accommodating a surge of forces capable of meeting future threats.

While most of these efforts have been met with strong opposition from the Senate and the Bush administration, the ability to accommodate surge requirements is today one of the criteria used to make BRAC decisions. As such, the final BRAC 2005 list will protect the future readiness needs of the nation’s military by retaining sufficient air, land and sea assets at Defense Department installations to support a surged military force.

This requirement is of great importance because, as we now know after four rounds of BRAC, assets at closed bases are lost forever. Fortunately, the nine members of the BRAC commission, who were sworn in and held their first hearings on May 3, have strong backgrounds in understanding military requirements.

As a result, I expect they will recognize the importance of airspace, deep water ports, shore landing zones, training ranges and maneuver areas to both military readiness today and basic training and surge requirements in the future. By doing so, the commissioners will ensure that the 2005 BRAC round results in an inventory of infrastructure that is capable of supporting the U.S. military for decades to come.

Needless to say, the next six months are a critical period of time. Not only will the BRAC commission make final closure and realignment recommendations that will have long-ranging effects on U.S. military basing, but communities affected by BRAC will begin the process of managing the changes that result as thousands of military personnel and their family members change hometowns. In order to make this process as smooth as possible, I have a number of suggestions for both the Defense Department and local communities.

First, the secretary of Defense should, as soon as possible, announce Defense Department policies for disposal of property at bases that are closed or realigned during the coming BRAC round. These policies, which will in part determine whether a given property is disposed of by public sale, negotiated sale, economic development conveyance, no-cost conveyance or other means, will often guide the approach used by communities, developers and other businesses during redevelopment efforts.

In addition, these policies will determine the manner and speed with which the military services handle environmental cleanups at closed installations. Having a clear understanding of DOD’s plans and policies in these areas is critical to successful community reuse planning as well as maintaining good relations between the department and communities during the disposal process.

Second, the Office of Economic Adjustment needs increased funding in future years. This DOD organization is responsible for helping communities manage the effects of base closures. Unfortunately, the budget request for fiscal 2006 included only $30 million for OEA, less than one-half of what the organization anticipated as being necessary for meeting community planning grant requirements for the coming BRAC round. While I am hopeful Congress will increase this amount for fiscal 2006, additional OEA funding in future years will also be critical to helping communities manage the effects of BRAC.

Third, communities affected by the secretary’s BRAC recommendations should immediately begin planning for the effects of base closures and realignments. While communities can and will make every effort to convince the BRAC commission that the secretary’s recommendation to close or realign their base was the incorrect one, they should not delay planning for the worst-case scenario. Any delay in the planning process will slow a community’s ability to adapt after BRAC, should efforts to reverse the secretary’s recommendations fail, and will cost tax receipts, redevelopment opportunities and ultimately community recovery.

Fourth, base redevelopment planning should be conducted with one voice by both the Defense Department and the local community. In past BRAC rounds, significant changes to base reuse plans in the years after closure and competing visions of future property uses have delayed community recovery efforts.

A unified community vision can help to eliminate such problems. Likewise, DOD should speak with one voice when dealing with communities during the reuse process — the policies governing reuse should be the same whether dealing with Army, Navy or Air Force installations.

Finally, the Defense Department should make every effort to complete environmental cleanup and property disposal of closed bases from both BRAC 2005 and prior BRAC rounds. Every delay in property disposal costs the department millions of dollars in caretaker costs and limits community opportunities to recover through redevelopment.

Although communities and the Defense Department have spent the past three years preparing for BRAC 2005, the greatest challenges remain ahead. As DOD implements basing changes and communities adapt to the loss or gain of military forces, I expect to continue to conduct oversight of the process to ensure that military readiness is not diminished and that every community affected by BRAC receives the guidance and support it needs to successfully recover.

Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.) is chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on readiness.

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