Senator Durbin wants proof that BRAC actually saved money

Belleville News-DemocratMay 9, 2013 

A U.S. senator wants the Air Force to prove it saved money by closing bases due to the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process.

"Base closure commissions are supposed to take the politicians out of the process. I think they've replaced politicians with other politicians," said Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois.

"I've watched five base closure commissions," he said. "I want to see actual savings -- start to finish -- when you're closing a base, moving the personnel, moving the equipment, reassigning and then assessing how much money you've saved as a result of it."

Durbin, chairman of the Senate's Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, spoke Wednesday about the BRAC process and his skepticism of its effectiveness during a hearing on the Air Force's FY2014 budget. He has often expressed his skepticism of the process and has resisted them due to a lack of actual overall savings.

The Air Force's 2014 budget request is $114 billion, which includes nearly $30 billion for Air Force personnel, $46.5 billion for operations and maintenance, $18.8 billion for procurement and $17.6 billion for research and development. The personnel budget request includes increases of 1 percent for pay, 4.2 percent for housing and a 3.4 percent subsistence increase.

Republican members of Congress recently sent a letter to President Barack Obama contending that another BRAC round "will cost more than it saves in the near-term and thus will negate its value for deficit reduction."

The next round of BRAC won't begin until 2015 under the Pentagon's 2014 budget. BRAC is the process Congress uses to decide which military bases to close and which assets to move. Defense Department officials are pushing hard for the base closures because the military has nearly 25 percent more infrastructure than it needs and the excess capacity will continue to grow as U.S. military missions and presence in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to draw down.

The Air Force agreed to provide the Senate's Defense Appropriations Subcommittee with the savings earned from previous base closures. Durbin said money could be saved in the department's $600 billion budget by concentrating on other programs that are costing money, such as the F-35 joint strike fighter program, a program which is seven years and more than $164 billion over budget.

The 2005 BRAC round cost more than $35 billion and eliminated tens of thousands of civilian jobs. According to a report from the Government Accountability Office, the 2005 BRAC cost more than was saved in the long run and was categorized by the office as "excessive."

Scott Air Force Base in the 2005 BRAC gained personnel when it gained three Army Surface Deployment and Distribution centers but lost the inpatient mission at the Scott Air Force Base Hospital. A Mobility Air Forces Logistics Support Center was also established at the base.

Durbin praised the men and women at Scott and the critical missions performed at the base. Under sequestration, the Air Force was forced to cut its budget by about $7 billion. To contend with the cuts, the Air Force reduced flying, weapons system sustainment, training, facility sustainment, and implemented civilian hiring freezes and furloughs.

"Scott Air Force Base in Southern Illinois is our major Air Mobility hub, hosting Guard and active duty units as well as U.S. Transportation Command. Members of its Tanker Airlift Control Center have called in emergency medical evacuations for service members injured in Afghanistan. ... The 126th Air Refueling Wing deployed to contribute to the no-fly zone in Libya. I am very proud that these men and women performing such critical tasks call Illinois their home," Durbin said.

"Our job is to ensure the men and women in uniform are the finest, most skilled fighting forces in the world. It would be a mistake to allow budget pressures to squander their talent," he said.

Scott has more than 13,000 military and civilian employees and is the region's largest employer. The base's economic impact on the St. Louis region is estimated at $3 billion annually.

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