By PAUL McLEARY
WASHINGTON — Senior US Army leadership has doubled down on its support for another round of shuttering and shrinking domestic installations, with Army Secretary John McHugh telling a congressional committee Tuesday morning that the service could save about $1 billion a year by undertaking a new round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC.)
“To maintain an unused building is to throw money away” at a time when the Army’s budget is under stress from sequestration and the flattening of topline budget numbers in future budgets, he said.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno added that any new round of BRAC would not be as expensive as the last round of closures in 2005, “and you’ll probably get a bigger return” due to lower maintenance costs combined with the reduction in overall troop numbers.
McHugh added that even though the BRAC program is politically sensitive due to the loss of jobs in certain congressional districts, it’s a “proven, fair, and cost-effective” way for the services to save money. He pointed out that the 2005 BRAC, for a $13 billion investment, is already saving the Army alone at least $1 billion a year.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced earlier this year that there would be no BRAC in 2015 or 2016, but that another was being planned for 2017, which would likely make it a contentious issue in the 2016 presidential and congressional elections.
Odierno and McHugh are struggling to find ways to save cash at a time when the service faces an estimated $170 billion in budget reductions over the next decade, on top of sequestration, which forced the Army to cut an additional $37 billion in fiscal 2013.
McHugh told the House Armed Services Committee that while the Ryan-Murray budget bill, which mostly rolled back sequester cuts in fiscal 2015, supports the Army’s request of $120.5 billion for 2015, “the Army still faces budget cuts of $7.7 billion in FY14, and an additional $12.7 billion in FY15” when compared to the White House’s budget request for 2015.
Even with the relief provided by Ryan-Murray, the Army will still be forced to cut $20 billion in planned funding over 2014 and 2015, however.
Odierno also argued that under the sequestration-level spending caps in place for 2016 to 2021, the Army won’t be able to establish a balance between troop readiness and modernization until about 2019 through 2023 when “we would begin achieving our readiness goals and reinvesting in modernization programs to upgrade our aging fleets.”
If the president’s proposed budgets — which ignore sequestration — is enacted, the Army could move that time frame up by about three years.
Few on Capitol Hill see the second scenario as a plausible outcome, however, since Congress is currently making no serious moves to undo sequestration.