With substantial cuts in end-strength looming for both the Active and Reserve Component of the U.S. military, it is not surprising that large reductions of military infrastructure also are becoming more plausible. As U.S. forces overseas are brought home and, in several instances, demobilized, the network of U.S. installations abroad is being shrunk. The U.S. has completed or will soon finalize the handover of some 100 bases and facilities in Germany alone. Some 50 such locations are being cut in South Korea. Most recently, Japan and the U.S. signed an agreement that would see some 9,000 marines moved from Okinawa to Guam with a concomitant reduction in the U.S. footprint in Japan. It seems that the only place left where substantial cuts are likely to happen is at home.
The Pentagon maintains a large, complex and very expensive array of installations, depots, arsenals, R&D facilities, training sites, logistics centers, test facilities and communications nodes. Despite five rounds of base closures over the past twenty or so years, there is still significant excess capacity. The last such effort by the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) is generally judged to have been a failure. Rather than taking a cleaver or even scalpel to the oversized defense infrastructure, the 2005 BRAC barely wielded a paring knife. It accepted relatively few of the Pentagon’s recommended reductions and kept open several very expensive and underutilized facilities.
The true cost of maintaining excess infrastructure was hidden for a while by the enormous OCO spending associated with the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now that the former conflict is over and the latter winding down, the war funding is declining and the true costs of defense of that infrastructure is becoming apparent.
This reduced funding is beginning to impact many of the Pentagon’s facilities, particularly the depots and maintenance centers that repair, overhaul and support military platforms and systems. These facilities are scrambling to find new sources of revenue. Unfortunately, because the depots and maintenance centers are not allowed to compete against one another, they often try to take work away from the private sector, an activity commonly referred to as insourcing.
By law, the Pentagon is required to maintain a government-owned and staffed capability to provide core maintenance support for its platforms and systems. In addition, Congress mandated that at least 50 percent of depot maintenance funds must be given to government-run facilities, regardless of their costs compared to the private sector. But even with these advantages, there will not be enough money to maintain all the depots and maintenance centers. Exacerbating the problem is the fact that work performed in the depots and other maintenance facilities is generally more expensive and less efficient than that done by their private sector equivalents.
The Pentagon has requested Congress to okay two new rounds of base closures. Although some in Congress have voiced strong opposition to any new base closures or other reductions in the Pentagon’s infrastructure, the managers and workers in the depots, maintenance centers and other sustainment facilities should not for a moment think that they are safe. The reality is that the Pentagon’s current infrastructure is simply unaffordable. Ongoing efforts to insource private sector work will only make the situation worse by raising the cost to the end users, the warfighters, who are required to pay for the maintenance services they receive. What are only noises at this moment will soon become a loud and incessant drumbeat for reducing the Pentagon’s infrastructure and particularly cutting the number of depots and maintenance centers.
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