Feb 13 2007

BRAC cuts unlikely to reverse changes

Huntsville Times

By SHELBY G. SPIRES

 

Expert says delays could make moves more expensive

Slashing billions of dollars from a BRAC construction budget might make moving military work more expensive, but probably won't stop the process, lawmakers and a defense expert said Monday.

Last month, the U.S. House cut $3 billion from a proposed $5.6 billion budget Pentagon planners say they need to begin moving military work and start construction to accommodate the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission moves.

The Senate is slated to debate the funding resolution by Thursday, but it could happen as early as today, according to published reports. Alabama Sens. Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions say they're planning to push hard to put the money back in the budget.

Cutting budgets could delay construction at bases such as Redstone Arsenal for a time - maybe a year - but probably won't do much in the long run other than run up the BRAC price tag, said Philip Coyle, a member of the 2005 BRAC panel. Coyle said the money could be included in future budgets, but delays would cause construction costs to increase.

"Indeed, this could make the process more expensive. If bases are going to be closed and units moved, then it might as well be gotten on with," said Coyle, who serves as a senior adviser to the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Defense Information.

"I don't know if (Congress') intent is to reverse BRAC outright. It certainly could have the effect of delaying. There's always the hope by some in Congress and the communities adversely affected by BRAC that if you delay it long enough, then you might be able to reverse it with another round of BRAC."

In 2005, Congress and President Bush approved a six-year plan to relocate three major Army commands, missile defense and helicopter work to Redstone as part of BRAC recommendations. The move is expected to bring 4,524 federal and possibly 5,000 contractor jobs to Huntsville.

Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, and Sessions, R-Mobile, say there is no plan to reverse BRAC. Both senators have pledged to keep the money in the current budget or, failing that, make sure it is included in upcoming military construction budgets.

"I remain confident that the Senate will work toward a resolution that ensures our armed services receive the necessary funding for Base Realignment and Closure implementation," Shelby said in a statement released by his office Monday.

Sessions lamented that Democrat and Republican differences could stymie getting BRAC money in place.

"It's unfortunate that congressional Democrat leaders chose to cut essential funding to implement the BRAC requirements," he said. "This makes no sense. I will be working with Sen. Shelby and colleagues to ensure that this funding is restored as soon as possible."

Concerns are starting to brew on both sides of the aisle in Congress, Coyle said, about how the BRAC decisions made two years ago will affect the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Coyle said the BRAC Commission might have acted differently "if we had known then about troop levels what we know now," he said.

He said the Army and Marine Corps are slated to get more troops now because of the upsurge in the war, while the Air Force is cutting 40,000 people.

"There's an imbalance there," Coyle said. "Knowing that, we probably would have leaned heavily toward closing more Air Force bases and less Army and Marine bases."