BRAC costs were $14 billion over estimates

The 2005 base realignment and closure (BRAC) process cost the Defense Department and taxpayers two-thirds more than the initial cost estimate of $21 billion, congressional auditors reported.

By Sept. 15, 2011, when the 2005 base closings and program shifts across the armed forces were required by law to be completed, the total cost had grown to $35.1 billion, the U.S. Government Accountability Office concluded in its report requested by Congress. The $14.1 billion increase represented a 67 percent jump from the BRAC Commission’s 2005 budget submitted to Congress, the GAO reported.

By contrast, the Defense Department had spent about $25 billion combined on the four previous BRAC rounds since 1988, GAO officials reported.

Part of the 2005 BRAC changes involved creating military “centers of excellence” at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base by relocating the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine there from Brooks City-Base, Texas, and moving additional sensors research capability and other programs in from military installations in New York state, Arizona, Massachusetts and Florida.

The $353 million construction program to build and renovate the needed facilities at Wright-Patterson represented the base’s largest construction effort since World War II. That program’s cost, initially projected at $332 million, was increased to finish the expansion and renovation of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s sensors directorate, just off National Road, base officials have said. The moves brought a net gain of 1,200 jobs to the base.

The cost of closing the former Brooks base in San Antonio has jumped to $608.2 million, a nearly $283 million increase from the initial projection of $325.3 million, the GAO reported. The GAO is the auditing and investigative arm of Congress.

The government undertakes the base realignments and closures to adapt U.S. defense capabilities to changing global power shifts and threats. The 2005 BRAC was the largest and most complicated one, GAO officials noted. It involved more than 800 defense locations and the relocation of more than 125,000 personnel.

BRAC’s key goals included establishing joint military medical centers, creating joint bases, and reconfiguring the defense supply, storage and distribution network.

Increased construction costs and a 13.7 percent increase in inflation from 2005 to 2011 were major factors in driving up the 2005 BRAC cost, the GAO concluded in its report released on Friday. Other contributors included underestimated requirements for outfitting or furnishing buildings, and expanded information technology needs, the GAO said.

The system-wide military construction costs that the 2005 BRAC Commission estimated at $13.2 billion have increased by 86 percent to $24.5 billion, the GAO said.

David Hobson, the former Republican congressman from Springfield, opposed the 2005 BRAC program, saying he didn’t believe the projections that it would save money.

“I didn’t think that it was going to produce cost-effective results,” Hobson, now a consultant, said Monday. “And it obviously didn’t.”

As a result of the 2005 BRAC changes, Springfield’s Ohio Air National Guard base lost its F-16 fighter jet and pilot training missions, but was awarded a support mission for MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft. Ohio political leaders said that would preserve almost 900 jobs at the Springfield base.

The 2005 BRAC Commission projected recurring annual savings of $4.2 billion from the realignment and closings. But the GAO has since reported that the Defense Department would spend more and save less than was estimated. The GAO said it plans to deliver a final accounting in a “lessons learned” report later this year.

In the BRAC process, Congress is limited to approving or rejecting the entirety of the commission’s recommendations, with no option to choose among them.

The Defense Department acknowledged in its response to the GAO that the auditors accurately reported the higher costs and reduced savings from the 2005 BRAC round.

But, the department said: “The department continues to believe that the BRAC process is the only fair, objective and proven process for closing and realigning bases ...”

President Obama’s 2013 defense budget proposal includes a request that Congress authorize new BRAC rounds.

Given the increased costs and reduced savings from the 2005 round, Congress should consider establishing cost-savings targets for future BRAC commission members, said Loren Thompson, a defense industry analyst for the Lexington Institute in Arlington, Va.

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2242 or jnolan@DaytonDailyNews.com.