Thursday, May 6, 2004
One year from now, on May 15, 2005, barring catastrophe or political upheaval, a list of military installations deemed eligible for closure will be released by the Pentagon.
Military posts that are economically crucial to their neighboring cities, but extraneous and costly to the Defense Department, will be on that list.
After base-closure rounds in the 1990s that shuttered scores of military installations around the nation, some observers predict that the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round could be the biggest and baddest ever.
Over the next year, BRAC will become a huge issue. The threatened shutdown of military bases during an election year is sure to spark a political melee. In addition, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is already in the midst of transforming the military, while engaged in campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Tim Ford is the executive director of the National Association of Installation Developers (NAID), a group that works with communities that have lost a base to BRAC—or dread the prospect. He says trying to predict a BRAC is like betting on a horse race.
“No one really knows,” Ford says. “It’s a decision based on military values. There are no guarantees.
“I’m sure they’re doing some kind of analysis, but that’s not something they reveal to the general public.”
After painful BRACs in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995—closing 97 major Air Force bases, Army forts and Navy stations, as well as smaller facilities—Congress in 2002 agreed to authorize the next BRAC round but put it off until 2005. In Congress, base closures are particularly unpalatable.
“They would rather do anything else than say yes to base closures,” Ford says. “So they’ve said ‘let’s have a BRAC to end all BRACs.’”
The other factor fueling the current BRAC fear is that, according to current information, the Pentagon believes there’s 25 percent in excess capacity in the military’s network of installations. That means some 90 bases could get shut down. Some 130,000 civilian jobs were lost last time around, Ford says. (He says 90,000 jobs were re-created through base re-use.)
The whole thing could get upended following the
presidential election. Presumptive Democratic nominee Sen.
John Kerry has hinted at postponing BRAC further.
The aftermath of a BRAC is evident right here in the white elephant known as Fort Ord. When the base closed in 1994, 2,800 civilians lost their jobs, and 7,500 military families left town.
After a decade, Fort Ord’s re-use is far from a success story.
The closure of Fort Ord was such a local catastrophe that the City of Monterey began its own campaign in 1993 to be sure it did not lose its two other bases—the Presidio, home of the Defense Language Institute (DLI) and the Naval Postgraduate School.
Losing either site would be devastating. According to the most recent city analysis, the total military presence here, including smaller facilities like the Fleet Numerical weather station and the accounting center on Fort Ord, mean a total of 10,000 jobs and $1 billion in direct local spending.
(To help the local bases defray costs, the city has taken on firefighting duties on both sites and public works duties at the Presidio in an arrangement that’s neither a subsidy nor a profit machine, according to the city.)
In fact, the debacle of Fort Ord, and Monterey’s efforts to preserve its remaining bases, serve as somewhat contrasting national examples of the BRAC phenomenon.
Both Monterey City Manager Fred Meurer and Fort Ord Re-use Authority executive officer Michael Houlemard sit on the NAID board. Monterey will host the annual meeting of the NAID in August, which will be attended by some “significant” Defense Department officials.
BRAC 2005 will top the agenda for that meeting. Monterey’s efforts to become a community partner to DLI and NPS will serve as example for cities eyeing their own possible BRAC.
“Communities all over the country are doing the same things you see in Monterey right now,” Ford says, “especially places that have a major military presence that plays a significant role in the local economy.”
For Mayor Dan Albert, the presence of the DLI and NPS go beyond economics.
“The economy is one thing,” Albert says, “there’s a huge payroll with the DLI and the Naval Postgraduate School. But it’s another thing people might not know about, and that’s when the city of Monterey was founded in 1770, the Presidio of Monterey was founded at the same time. The military has been part of the community ever since.”
During the previous base closings, the city hired several consultants. It probably will again, according to city officials.
“We’re going to do everything we can possibly do to retain the DLI and Naval Postgraduate School,” Albert says. “In the next year or so, I think it will be the big issue. It’s my number one concern.”
Albert says the city began protecting itself from BRAC in 1993, the year before Fort Ord was closed. Since then, there have been attempts to close the DLI which were fought and defeated. Albert does not even think about what might be done if the DLI and NPS were excised by the 2005 BRAC. A legendary former football and basketball coach at Monterey High, he says defeat is not an option worth considering.
“I don’t even think about losing,” he says.
Neither does Rep. Sam Farr.
The Carmel Democrat deliberately got himself on the committee that approves military construction projects. He has managed to fortify the local economy with new dorms and classrooms at DLI, and even a recently completed $2.1 million “academic”-style fence for the NPS. According to Farr’s office, he has directed $82.4 million to local military construction projects.
“I probably know more about BRAC than anybody in Congress,” Farr says.
Pork alone won’t save the bases. After the last BRAC rounds, Farr sat with local leaders and base officials to ponder whether the remaining facilities were relevant to the military, whether they had a unique role that could not be found elsewhere, and whether being in Monterey is critical.
Farr likes to point out that Gen. John Abizaid, head of the US Central Command—which oversees military operations in the Middle East and Central Asia—recently said he considers the DLI and NPS “national treasures.”
Justifying a Monterey address can be subjective when other places may have more room and are cheaper. In previous BRAC rounds, there was some thought to moving the DLI to Fort Huachuca in Arizona because it’s the next place many DLI grads go for military intelligence training. Farr says that faculty protesting an exodus to the desert caused the idea to be reconsidered. For NPS, the requirement to stay in Monterey is harder to pin down.
“It’s here,” he says. “It’s never been another place, and it’s growing because of its cross-relationships with DLI and the Monterey Institute of International Studies and CSUMB. We’ve put hundreds of millions of dollars into [DLI and NPS].”
One thing that could argue against keeping the posts in Monterey is the high cost of housing—the military provides a locally adjusted base housing allowance for service members who want to live off the post. Farr dismissed the cost-of-living argument, as the Navy for one, has bases in expensive coastal areas like San Diego.
Farr says he doesn’t believe that DLI or NPS will close. Rather he relies on a tactic used by Captain James T. Kirk of Star Trek that says, “Change the rules so your side wins.”