Pentagon takes on a tight timeline

Auditors question ability to shift jobs by BRAC deadline

September 15, 2007|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Sun reporter

A pair of congressional audits raise concerns about the ability of the Pentagon to meet its 2011 deadline for an ambitious nationwide base realignment that is expected to bring up to 60,000 defense jobs and 28,000 households to Maryland.

One report by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, says the realignment could be hindered by lingering confusion about how many jobs would move where, by complicated moves such as those involving Aberdeen Proving Ground and by competition for funds within the Department of Defense.

The Army plans to relocate more than 150,000 civilian and military personnel under the base realignment and closure law passed by Congress in 2005. Eighteen bases, including Aberdeen and Fort Meade in Maryland, are projected to increase their work forces by at least 2,000, the GAO reports.

The Pentagon expects to spend $17 billion nationwide on construction alone to accommodate all the base moves, while affected communities could shoulder infrastructure costs - as yet uncalculated - to handle the added population and traffic.

"This is a very large and challenging initiative to move this many people in what is, in fact, a relatively compressed time frame," said Brian J. LePore, the GAO's director of defense capabilities and management.

Earlier this year, GAO auditors found inconsistencies in the Army's estimates of how many jobs would be moving to some bases, which the report said could complicate planning for adequate infrastructure.

Auditors also warned that in some cases, base realignments rely on synchronized moves of units to make way for another. Should one of those relocations fall behind for any reason, it could jeopardize others.

As an example, the report points to Aberdeen Proving Ground. The base realignment and closure commission recommended closing Fort Monmouth, N.J., and shifting the bulk of its work force into renovated facilities at Aberdeen. But the renovation can begin only after the Army Ordnance Center and School moves to Fort Lee, Va., which is not scheduled to happen until 2009.

"Any delay could jeopardize these moves and meeting the September 15, 2011, deadline," the report says.

Michael Hayes, director of military and federal affairs for the state Department of Business and Economic Development, acknowledged that Aberdeen and Fort Meade both face tight schedules for readying the posts to accommodate thousands of new jobs. In Fort Meade's case, offices are to be built on part of the base's golf course to house the Defense Information Systems Agency, which is to move there from Arlington, Va.

But Hayes said, "All those things that they have to do are ready to roll." A contract to build new offices at Fort Meade has been announced, and one is due to be announced soon for Aberdeen, he said, making him "reasonably optimistic ... that we're going to be all right."

A second GAO report finds that the costs of consolidating military reserve centers as part of the base realignment have increased. One new reserve center where costs have escalated is to be built at Fort Detrick in Frederick.

The Defense Department plans to close an Army reserve center at Detrick and replace it with one serving more than one armed service. The GAO report said new cost estimates exceed what has been budgeted for some of the 125 reserve centers to be built. Because of the cost increases, the Army Corps of Engineers, in charge of handling the centers' construction, was said to be debating what to do about the Detrick project and another at Fort Lewis in Washington state.

Fred Grant, chief of reserve support for the Army Corps in Louisville, said the Detrick center was running only about 1 percent over budget and the Defense Department had shifted funds to cover it. A $12.6 million construction contract was awarded in July, he said.

"Overall, I think we've done very well with the Army Reserve program," Grant said. "There's a few that have gone over [budget], but ... the majority have been under."

tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

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