GAO Report Recommends Better Planning for Future BRAC Rounds

GAO-13-149After completing a comprehensive analysis of BRAC 2005—the “biggest, most complex, costliest BRAC round ever”—the Government Accountability Office has released a report identifying a series of lessons learned that could be applied if Congress chooses to authorize future BRAC rounds.

Military Bases: Opportunities Exist to Improve Future Base Realignment and Closure Rounds (GAO-13-149), released earlier this month, presents GAO’s assessment of how the Department of Defense (DoD) estimated BRAC costs and savings, as well as how those costs grew between the initial estimates and implementation. While BRAC 2005 resulted in the closure of 24 major bases and the realignment of 24 others—and in estimated annual recurring savings of $3.8 billion—the report argues that DoD “cannot provide documentation to show to what extent it reduced plant replacement value or vacated leased space as it reported in May 2005 that it intended to do.” The report also criticizes DoD for not establishing a target for reducing excess infrastructure, as it had done in the 1995 BRAC round, and notes that bundling multiple closures and realignments limited visibility into the estimated costs and savings for individual ones.

Military construction costs, for example, increased from the $13.2 billion estimated by the BRAC Commission in 2005 to $24.5 billion by the time implementation was completed in 2011. While most of the 86 percent increase was the result of requirements that were added or identified after implementation began, GAO reports that “other cost estimates increased because requirements were initially understated or not identified,” and suggests a number of ways that DoD could improve its methodology for future BRAC rounds. In particular, the report recommends that DoD “identify appropriate measures of effectiveness, develop a plan to demonstrate the extent to which it achieved intended results, and establish a target for eliminating excess infrastructure in its initiating guidance, consistent with the selection criteria for a future BRAC round.”

The report also identifies several potential amendments to the BRAC statute that could provide Congress with “improved visibility over costs and savings expected from implementing BRAC recommendations.” Congress could, for example, “consider requiring [the Office of the Secretary of Defense] OSD to formally establish targets that the department expects to achieve from a future BRAC process and require OSD to propose selection criteria as necessary to help achieve those targets.”

In a letter commenting on the report, Acting Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Installations and Environment John Conger expressed his concern with the report’s “emphasis on establishing goals, measurements of effectiveness, and capacity reduction targets. The premise that we should be required to close a particular number of bases or eliminate a particular number of civilian jobs,” he added, “is arbitrary, counterproductive, and would undermine military capability.” The report, in response to DoD’s comments on a draft version, notes that “nothing in these recommendations precludes optimizing military value while still measuring effectiveness and setting capacity reduction targets” and concludes that “GAO continues to believe that implementing these recommendations would help improve the BRAC process.”