By David VergunJune 13, 2013
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, June 13, 2013) -- Millions of dollars are being wasted maintaining buildings and installations that are underutilized and dilapidated, said the Army's top custodian of those spaces.
Those dollars could instead go toward improving Army readiness and modernization, said Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment.
But first, Congress would need to authorize another round of base realignment and closure, or BRAC, and provide funding to tear down failing structures, she said.
As an example, Hammack cited a vacant building at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. There, the Army is spending $1 million a year to maintain that building because there is no money to demolish it, she said.
Buildings such as the one at Aberdeen are vacant and falling apart across the Army, Hammack said, and that means money is being wasted.
The problem is exacerbated as the military drawdown continues, she said.
As tens of thousands of Soldiers are reduced from the ranks, their living and working spaces become vacant, she said, pointing out that a brigade combat team, or BCT, uses around a million square feet of space, the size of about 20 football fields.
By the end of fiscal year 2017, the active-duty Army will decrease its end strength from 570,000 to 490,000. The Army National Guard will reduce from 358,000 to 353,000. The Army Reserve has already reduced to 205,000.
Earlier this year, Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno said decreased end strength will result in at least eight fewer active-duty BCTs. The Army will go from 45 BCTs to 37.
Vacant buildings have a cost associated with them, because they must be maintained for safety and environmental reasons, Hammack said. For instance, air conditioning is needed to prevent mold, and water lines need to be maintained in case of fire.
Hammack said there is a 15-year backlog of buildings in "failing condition," and that's growing every year.
DOING THINGS RIGHT
Army installations in Europe point the way on how to best manage infrastructure as forces draw down and the budget declines, she said. In Europe, the Army and the Defense Department have authority on infrastructure reduction.
As the size of the force in Europe, primarily Germany, grows smaller, the Army is reducing its infrastructure accordingly, she said. She cited current and projected savings from 2007 to 2017:
During the 10-year period between 2007 and 2017, the force will shrink by about 45 percent. The Army is reducing infrastructure by more than 50 percent, with savings in base operating costs of around 58 percent, she said.
The surrounding communities have seen benefits as well, she said. Europeans are using the installations for schools, office buildings, homes and so on.
The same thing is happening in the U.S. as a result of the last BRAC round in 2005, she said.
At Fort Monmouth, N.J., a BRAC 2005-targeted installation, evacuees from Hurricane Sandy are taking up residence until they can get their lives back together, she said.
Elsewhere on Monmouth, a communications company is moving into industrial buildings and warehouses and an urgent care clinic is going up to serve the local community. Other buildings are being leased or rented out, she said.
Another recently shuttered installation, Fort Monroe, Va., has already seen about 60 percent of its buildings put into productive reuse as residences, industrial and commercial facilities. A marina, lodging and a park remain to be transferred, she said.
Installations can be transformed rapidly, she said, thanks to the efforts of state, county and community reuse authority commissions, which work to market the infrastructure to industry and other development.
Often, installations have access to rail lines and highways. They also usually have the proper zoning and facilities in place for high-tech or heavy industry.
Hammack said she's hopeful the Army will eventually get the authority and resources it desperately needs so it won't have to continue maintaining excess infrastructure.
That money can then go where it's really needed, she said: "to the warfighters."