Excess Infrastructure

Today’s blog post is from the Honorable Katherine Hammack, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment (ASA IE&E).

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Camp Roberts in California, which once housed thousands of Soldiers, is now a primarily empty barracks building awaiting demolition. A few of the buildings have been repurposed for training.

The Army faces a major challenge determining how to handle its increasing excess infrastructure.

Our Army’s infrastructure consisting of roads, utility lines, buildings, airfields, firing ranges, and training lands must be proportionate to our troop strength requirements – currently it is not.

During the World War II-era our facilities were designed and built to support 8 million Soldiers. Our current force is several times smaller, and continues to decrease.

However, the Department of Defense does not possess the authority or resources to manage our excess infrastructure due to fiscal restraints.

A review of our troop strength as it pertains and contributes to our excess infrastructure highlights the following:

  • By the end of 2017 active-duty Soldier strength will decrease from 570,000 to 490,000.
  • The Army National Guard will reduce its strength from 358,000 to 353,000 Soldiers, while the Army Reserve has already reduced to 205,000 Soldiers.
  • The Army is inactivating 10 Brigade Combat Teams; each BCT requires over a million square feet of facilities.
  • More reductions are likely with increased budget pressures.
  • Many excess facilities require a certain amount of maintenance for safety and environmental reasons— these are millions of dollars in costs that can and should be avoided.
  • Due to funding constraints, there is a 15-year backlog in planned demolition of buildings in “failing condition.”
  • The cost of maintaining unused or failing infrastructure means other critical Army programs may suffer.
  • Our ability to invest in equipment, training and maintenance will be reduced.

The Army has been increasingly successful in finding innovative ways to utilize excess infrastructure.  We continue to repurpose structures when and where possible, using them for training, leasing them to private industry and scheduling them for demolition when appropriate.

Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) authorities have significantly helped to reduce excess infrastructure over the past decade.  More than 350 installations have been closed across all military branches in five BRAC rounds: 1989, 1991, 1993, 1995, and the most recent round of BRAC 2005 completed in September 2011.

Savings to defense budgets from these closures have resulted in over $12 billion in annual savings from operating costs.

These BRAC rounds have led to many positives.  Surplus property has been conveyed to new users and is being utilized for industrial, commercial, recreational or housing opportunities managed by state, county and local reuse authorities.  The surrounding communities have been great beneficiaries from our excess infrastructure.  Placing excess property back into productive reuse can facilitate job creation, help communities build a local tax base and generate revenue.  For example: the excess Army lodging  at Fort Monmouth, NJ was used by Hurricane Sandy evacuees to reside in; a communications company purchased land to construct a 275,000 square foot, high tech office park ultimately creating 275 jobs for the local community ; and an urgent care clinic is going up to serve the local community. Sixty percent of the returned buildings at Fort Monroe, VA, closed in BRAC 2005, are being used, leased, or reused, to benefit the community.

Outside the United States we have successfully used our authorities to manage infrastructure in the most optimal way.  In Europe, over the next decade our force will shrink by 45 percent. Simultaneously, the infrastructure will be reduced by 50 percent, civilian staffing will be reduced by 58 percent, and base operations costs will be reduced by 57 percent. Thus, we are able to maintain a balance in what we need to support our Soldiers and their Families in order to keep them ready and resilient.

The 2005 BRAC Commission recommended that Congress authorize another BRAC round in 2015, and then every eight years thereafter.  Thus far, Congress has rejected Pentagon calls for base closures.  Then Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta had called for two rounds of base closures, while at the same time arguing that the alternative of the sequester would be a “meat-ax” approach to cuts which would “hollow out” military forces.

We must face the reality that lower budgets and a smaller force require us to reduce our infrastructure.  We need to begin the discussion on what the next BRAC round should look like.

From a military standpoint we need to reset to support reduced Soldier strengths; beyond excess infrastructure, what else should we consider? Should we consider the economic value or marketability of the property?  Should we only consider installations with lowest environmental closure costs?

The Army’s infrastructure was established to support the needs of this great nation.  As the needs of the nation change in ways that reduce our force structure, we need the nation to help us reduce our infrastructure.

Army Strong!

Katherine Hammack

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Excess Infrastructure