Defense Officials Generally Pleased with Base Closure Process

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)

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