July 1, 2005

Government study questions base closure savings

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon's plan to close andcutback military bases around the country may not produce allof the savings projected because the total armed forces willnot be cut, the Government Accountability Office reported onFriday.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in May unveiled plans forclosures and restructurings of 837 military facilities -- morethan all previous rounds of base closures combined -- with aloss of more than 26,000 jobs.

The Pentagon said the actions would save $50 billion over20 years, after spending $24.4 billion to close the bases.

GAO's study, required by Congress in authorizing the firstU.S. base closures in a decade, found the Pentagon projected 47percent of its savings to come from eliminating militarypositions. But GAO said many of these jobs will be moved.

"Rather than reducing end-strength levels, DOD indicatesthe positions are expected to be reassigned to other areas,limiting dollar savings available for other uses," the GAOsaid, adding that this could "create a false sense of savings."

For example, the Air Force's closure plan calls for annualsavings of $732 million through eliminating 10,200 jobs, but italso plans to shift active duty positions to high-demandcareers and reassign reservists to new missions yet to beidentified.

The study also questioned the Pentagon's projection ofabout $500 million in annual savings from re-engineeringbusiness, storage and maintenance processes.

In one example, the GAO said a plan for new Navy "fleetreadiness centers" that would save $215 million by cuttingrepair times and parts inventories was based on historical dataand pilot projects that have not been independently verified.

It also said the Pentagon's did not take into account the$2.2 billion that will need to be spent on constructionprojects associated with bringing home overseas troops.


While the savings estimates did not include the price tagfor environmental cleanup, GAO noted that the Pentagon'sestimate of $949 million to cleanup the abandoned bases waslikely to grow.

Officials in Connecticut, for example, have argued that the$23 million allocated for cleanup of the New London SubmarineBase slated for closure is far too low.

"Overall we're pleased with the report because it said wehandled the process well," said Pentagon spokesman Glenn Flood."We've always had issues with the GAO regarding savings."

The Pentagon's recommendations are being reviewed by theBase Realignment and Closure Commission, which is nowconducting public hearings near bases. The commission, made upof by former generals, admirals and senior federal officials,has the power to alter the Pentagon plan and must submit itschanges to President Bush in September.

Bush and Congress can accept or reject the commission'slist in its entirety but can make no changes.