National Security Watch: Little savings in base-closing plan?
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld likes to trumpet this year's round of proposed military base closings and realignments as a way to cut costs and to transform the military into a nimbler fighting force. The Government Accountability Office isn't so sure.
In a recent report, the GAO said the changes, including 33 base closings and hundreds of other base realignments, would produce some savings, although perhaps not as much as the Pentagon has predicted: $50 billion over the next 20 years. To complete the changes, though, would cost $24 billion in upfront expenses.
The GAO is skeptical about what it calls a "false sense of savings." Most of the savings (47 percent) in the Pentagon's proposal come from cutting military jobs. But instead of reducing the overall size of the military, the Pentagon plans eventually to reassign those jobs to other areas. For example, the GAO found that the Army expects to save money by cutting about 5,800 positions, yet it has no plans to reduce its "end strength" numbers. The GAO says these changes are not dollar savings that could be spent to modernize other parts of the military. The Pentagon is preparing its formal response, but in the past, officials have said such personnel shifts still help transform the military.
The GAO report also questions whether the Pentagon can save the $500 million annually that it expects by streamlining some business practices in the military. "DOD's projections may create a false sense of the magnitude of the savings, with fewer resources available for force modernization and other needs than might be anticipated, and there may be the potential for premature budget reductions," the report says.
The report gives new ammunition to the numerous military-base communities trying to convince lawmakers and the Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission that they should not be on the list of affected bases. The commission is currently holding regional meetings and visiting sites. President Bush is set to receive the final list in September, and if it is approved, the plan will then head to Congress for a final showdown.