WASHINGTON, March 16, 2011 — Defense Department officials are generally pleased with the progress of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process as it moves toward its final months, an official involved in the effort said.
The 2005 BRAC law has over 200 recommendations affecting over 800 locations and some 125,000 people. It is one of the largest realignments in the department’s history, and its purpose was different from those that went before, said Peter Potochney, director of the Pentagon’s basing directorate.
Unlike earlier closures and realignments, the push in the 2005 process was for the department footprint to make more sense, Potochney said. “It was to use BRAC as a change agent,” he explained. “The 2005 [process] was more about restructuring than it was about trimming excess capacity.”
The 2005 law called for the department to look 20 years into the future and configure installations and capabilities to support that force.
“The biggest difference in this BRAC was we set up these joint groups that looked across service lines and were empowered to make recommendations,” he said. These recommendations received the same weight and attention that service recommendations received.
The questions became whether functions aligned correctly and how organizations should be based to encourage open communication, efficiencies and synergy. “It made for a much more complicated background,” Potochney said during a recent interview.
It was one thing, for example, to manage a program getting rid of excess capabilities or infrastructure, but something quite different to mix and match organizations from different services with the assorted cultures, requirements and methods of doing business.
The support functions in the military particularly lend themselves to the process. Defense research labs, military medical care, logistics and industrial facilities were among those consolidated. “A lab that looks at guns, for instance,” Potochney said. “Are they similar across the services or not? Would you need separate service labs, or not?” All this has to be accomplished without violating the Title 10 authority the services maintain to “man, train and equip” the forces.
The fact that the nation is at war complicated implementation of the BRAC, if not the BRAC selection, Potochney said. “We were very careful to ensure we didn’t violate any warfighting equities,” he said.
The pace of these realignments is different also. The earlier realignments and closures “peaked out somewhere around year three,” Potochney said. “This round peaked closer to the sixth year, and that pushes us up against the deadline,” which is Sept. 15.
Functions are the operative word in the base realignment process, he said. “If an old organization had 10 people doing something -– say travel –- and at the new site there is consolidation and there may be some efficiencies there and you made need only eight people, so be it,” he said. “It’s the function being transferred, not just the people.” Potochney said he thinks the process will meet its deadline. “A lot of [the realignments] are already done, a lot of them are finishing now, and then there is a handful -– five or six -– that are bumping up against the deadline,” he said.
A good example of the latter is the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at Bethesda, Md. “We think there is enough time to do it,” he said. “But if a tornado came through tomorrow and blew the building down, would we move medical care just because the BRAC recommendation says it? I don’t think we would jeopardize our medical care. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I am reasonably sure we will make it. But we’re watching it because it is extremely complex.”
Joint basing is another outgrowth of the process. The Defense Department now has 12 joint bases that truly are mergers, with all the facilities and infrastructure personnel becoming parts of the new organization, Potochney said. The process does not say how the missions will be accomplished, only that they will be, he noted, and those involved must meld procedures from different services to make the process work. Officials expect these mergers will save money, he added, and are giving the organizations time to operate together and then will look for efficiencies.
BRAC is extraordinarily hard because it directly affects peoples’ lives, Potochney said. But looking at it broadly, “this BRAC will set us up to be ready for the 21st century,” he said.
“It sounds like a cliché, but this is really going to position us for years and years to come. Painful? Yes. But also necessary.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)