Just finished reading a story on Yahoo! News about another potential round of Base Realignment and Closures. (BRAC) It appears that Congress doesn’t want to perform another round of pondering a politically perilous path. To say nothing of doing the tasks they are elected for (I’m pretty sure that constant campaign fundraising is not in their job description). To date, there have been four rounds that have produced tangible results. That’s results, not benefits. As anyone who has lived in an affected area, the effect of a base closure is akin to a natural disaster, without a major loss of life. According to information I perused at www.potiori.com, there has been approximately one-hundred and fifteen closures completed. That’s not counting the latest version of base super-mergers, where the different services branches figured out they could both save money and protect their collective heinies by combining common services while reducing staff. And without a reduction in support services (which by now have been outsourced to a multinational company, represented by…. a former politician and/or military leader). Win-win for everybody, and don’t forget to vote with your wallets.
One of the first items I wanted to call out was a comment made by the current Secretary of Defense, Charles Hagel. (I refuse to call him ‘Chuck’. We’re not buddies, pals, or whatever.) The quote; “We cannot fully achieve our goals for overhead reductions without cutting unnecessary and costly infrastructure.” (Emphasis mine.) I stopped and thought, ‘Even granting the huge amount of excesses the military-industrial complex has foisted on the taxpayer, just how much more overhead can be squeezed out of the military side of the balance sheet?’ That’s when I looked over the list of past closures and I noticed something odd – nothing at the Pentagon has ever been cut. There have been some efforts, the one that comes to mind is when Secretary Gates wanted to cut some fat from his direct department. Double checking that memory showed that he aimed for two to three percent across the board, back around 2010. Fast forward to 2013, and sequestration cuts have achieved more savings. I might be comparing blueberries to blackberries here, but closing a military site versus telling the entire defense machine to be frugal is not the same. Nor are the effects.
Most locations have fared better than others when their base closed. In the General Accounting Office’s report, Military Base Closures: Updated Status of Prior Base Realignments and Closures, James R. Reifsnyder, Barry W. Holman, GAO-05-138, pub. Jan 2005; Appendix II has a list of the closed locations, along with number of jobs lost versus how many have been gained since the closure (to 2004). The majority showed net gains of employment, with two of the oldest closures (Pease AFB, NH 1991 and Hunters Point Shipyard, CA in 1988) having gains of over one-thousand percent! A few have had zero percent also, but on looking at one example; Staten Island Naval Station, NY, it has zero jobs listed. If some places had one thousand plus returns, why was this location screwed up? Real simple: MONEY. Thirty-five acres of prime waterfront across the river from Brooklyn. And the ultimate weirdness: when I looked up news items about the site, the first item I went to was an announcement about the redevelopment of the site as a mixed-use residential zone. Shoot. If/when the ferry from New Jersey stops there, I’d consider living there (and I don’t do New York City too well). [Correction – I looked at the wrong map location. This site plan is just down the street from the St. George ferry terminal.] So, to generalize, making cuts across America have not only saved taxpayer money, but have had the concurrent benefit of stimulating business. Why then, does the federal government need to consider more cuts?
Go back to where Hagel says ‘goals for overhead reductions’. Overhead Reductions. (insert tapping of pencil on the object of your choice) Where does overhead occur in most large organizations or bureaucracy? With the line workers? Nah, they’re too busy making the profit or completing the mission. Support staff? Hmm, has possibilities. Who hasn’t had the inopportune intervention of someone in some office hold up the works because a check-box wasn’t checked. Same rationale goes for middle management, the usual suspect(s). Except that group is assigned to oversee the working masses, providing order over chaos. Senior or executive management? In a private company, this would be odd. There’s only one captain on a ship. But at the Pentagon, there are so many Captains, well – let me just say that if a Lieutenant Colonel is fetching coffee for a one-star General*, what are the Captains doing? (* personally seen this).
I had a point that I was aiming for, but I may have confused it a bit. Looking at that list of closures, I see that the Pentagon has never really been considered for consolidation or closure. On the face of it, that statement can be considered ludicrous. As with any company, the boss decides where the headquarters is located. In this case, the location (first at Pennsylvania Avenue and 17th Street, NW, Washington, D.C.; then at 2201 C Street, NW, Washington, D.C.; ending at the Pentagon) was created by the War Department last century. Large enough to handle ALL of the management of all the services, and near enough to the President.
In each of those increments, there were extenuating circumstances justifying the requirement. War. Traditional, dying-in-the-mud, battle. But, as with every known history of this planet, a nation cannot keep expanding on a war mentality. Bread and circuses, bullets and bombs. You can’t have them both (at least, not in perpetuity.) So far, I seem to have made a case for another BRAC round. Not my intent, but I can’t argue against the fact that a closure does not necessarily result in a locale’s economic demise (short time, yes). Base cuts treat the symptoms of the disease, but another round will not solve the cause of the disease.