September 15, 2017
WASHINGTON – Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, spoke on the Senate floor this week in support of the FY 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and in opposition of a base realignment and closure round, or BRAC.
As prepared for delivery:
Mr. President, I want to discuss an amendment that will be offered that I think is very significant. First of all, let's keep in mind what this is all about. The NDAA, the National Defense Authorization Act, is the most important bill I believe we pass every year. We’ve passed it now for 55 consecutive years and we'll pass this one.
Now, we are facing a threat. I've stood at this podium so many times now talking about how I look back wistfully at the days of the Cold War when we had two superpowers. We knew what they had. They knew what we had. Mutually assured destruction meant something. Now, it's totally different.
We hear a lot about the two biggest threats facing us right now: North Korea and Iran. I stand on the side that is North Korea because North Korea is run by someone with a questionable mentality and I've watched them over the years develop the capabilities that they now have. I certainly agree that Iran is also a serious threat, but the fact is our armed forces are now in a condition they have not been in a long time.
I chair the Subcommittee on Readiness in the Senate and we had the vice chairs testifying before us not too long ago. They testified that we are in worse shape now than we were during the hollow force of the 1970s, right after the Carter Administration. Many of us remember that and I certainly do.
Our armed forces are smaller than the days of the hollow force of the 1970s and readiness in the form of personnel training and equipment have been degraded to a breaking point. All the while, we have witnessed an uptick in the training and operational accidents across the armed forces. While the risks posed by the readiness crisis are significant, Congress is already taking steps to correct the shortfalls. Every amendment considered for the NDAA should focus on increasing readiness across our services. We owe it to our troops and our nation. Nothing short is acceptable.
That's why it was disappointing and dangerous that we are considering an amendment that would authorize a base alignment enclosure round, better known to all of us as a BRAC round.
We've had five BRAC rounds since 1989. I'm familiar with all of them. I, along with many of my colleagues in the Senate Armed Services Committee, successfully have a provision there that would include a prohibition against a BRAC round. Now, I think that's it's pretty obvious everyone knows what the threat is out there. At least, those on the Armed Services Committee do.
But, they also know that any BRAC round is going to have the effect of costing a lot of money that should be spent on readiness. No matter what a base realignment and closure, or BRAC, is, the amount of money that is spent when you first start is going to be very expensive.
Unfortunately, an amendment is pending that would enable a new BRAC round in 2019 and at the same time remove the nonpartisan Commission that allows both local defense communities and Congress input into the BRAC process.
The Pentagon claims that a BRAC round would save money and would allow the military to invest that money into critical readiness shortfalls and it's just not true. Before the most recent background in 2005, we heard these same arguments from the Pentagon that the BRAC would somehow save money and would allow military to increase efficiency. With 22 major base closings in 33 realignments in 2005, the round was depicted as to say they're supposed to save— over a 20-year period— 35 billion dollars with costs of 21 billion dollars. The reality is far different. The 2005 BRAC round cost taxpayers roughly thirty five billion dollars and is only expected to save 9.9 billion dollars over the next 20 years.
The other day I went back to see what the GAO said about that.
Let me read right out of their report: “The one-time implementation costs,” now that's the cost of putting together a BRAC round the one-time, “grew from 21 billion originally estimated by the BRAC Commission in 2005 to be 35 billion dollars. In other words, they said it was going to cost 21 billion dollars and ended up costing about 35 billion dollars. That's an increase of 67 percent. I mean, that's just it and it's been that way with the other rounds too.
Looking at the their analysis of the value, it is very important we understand what they're saying here. The GAO said “the 20-year net present value the Department of Defense can expect by implementing the 2005 BRAC recommendations has decreased by 72 percent.” In other words, they were 72 percent off as to what great savings we're going to have in the future by making these closures.
They went on to say “the 20-year net present value, that is the present value of future savings minus the present value of investment cost of 35.6 billion estimated by the Commission in 2005 for this BRAC round, has decreased by 72 percent.” I mean it cannot be more specific than that and this is the consistent pattern that we have. The base closure rounds cost American taxpayers an exorbitant amount of money up front and take years to recoup their initial investment if they ever do. In this case they haven't and they don’t expect to.
With the history of previous inconsistencies between expected and actual costs there's no certainty that any proposed base closures or realignments would be economically viable now or anytime in the future. We’re in a point of uncertainty that makes it irresponsible to expand billions of dollars downsizing our Armed Forces when we are currently facing some of the most volatile, unpredictable and dangerous military threats that America has ever seen.
Readiness can't wait and our enemies around the world will not.
We must also consider the possibility that will soon require a capacity that is presently considered excess if the current military threats materialize in a matter that would encourage expansion of our armed services. I think that stands to reason.
We know the threats are out there and we know that the problems are more severe than they have ever been in the history of this country. And so maybe the current size of our forces will not be adequate. It's a lot cheaper to go ahead and keep something that's already there than it is to tear down something and start all over again. In the early years everybody knows that certainty is there. That it will cost money in the early years. The high costs of BRAC round would divert resources away from addressing immediate tangible threats.
Just last week, North Korea tested what is believed to be a hydrogen bomb, its most powerful nuclear weapon tested to date, estimated at nearly seven times as powerful as the bomb detonated over Hiroshima. This came on the heels of North Korea's first successfully tested and more powerful and far-ranging intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM. We are familiar with that test, which began over the summer. Now, if fired on a trajectory, experts believe the ICBMs that North Korea tested could have reached the United States of America. I can remember talking about this with our intelligence department years ago. At that time, we were saying they could develop a bomb and a delivery system that could reach the United States of America. Well, that may be here today. If not, it is imminent.
The BRAC round now would also shortchange a response to immediate readiness needs. Over the last 90 days, we witnessed a spike in accidents across the military services. While these accidents are still under investigation to determine the cause, it's not hard to correlate them with the readiness decline.
Our forces are smaller than the days of the hollow force in the 1970s. Our equipment is aging, our base infrastructure requires critical maintenance and upgrades, our Air Force is short 1500 pilots—1300 of those are our fighter pilots. Only 50% of the Air Force squadrons are trained and ready to conduct their assigned missions.
The Navy is the smallest and the least ready it's been in years and currently can only meet about 40% of the demand for regional combat commanders and we're talking about the commanders in the field who make that assessment. We can only carry out less than 40% of that. More than half the Navy aircraft are grounded because they're awaiting maintenance or lack necessary parts.
The Marine Corps use F/A-18s, known as Hornets - 62% are broken and so we don't have that capacity. The Army has said that about a third of their brigade combat teams, one-fourth of their current combat aviation brigades and one-half of their division headquarters are currently ready.
The Vice Chief of Staff of the Army General Allyn said “What it comes down to … we will be too late to need, our soldiers will arrive too late, our soldiers will require too much time to close the manning, training and equipping gap… the end result is excessive casualties to civilians and to our forces who are already forward-stationed.”
We're talking about lives. We're talking about American lives. That's a sobering assessment especially when
considering the gravity of the threats we face around the world including, of course, the Korean peninsula. The NDAA's first priorities have to be to rebuild our forces and to improve its readiness. That’s what we're in the process of doing right now and we need to get it done. A BRAC round would divert vast resources away from this end for savings that we would not see for decades to come if we ever did. We're growing not shrinking. Now is not the time for a BRAC round. I hope my colleagues in the Senate will join me in rejecting this amendment. However well-intentioned, it is not time for a short-sighted BRAC round.
I'll just repeat one more time there are still members out there who are saying they've been told we're going to have more money for readiness if we have a BRAC round. It's just exactly the opposite.
This is, again, straight from the GAO. They made the analysis of the 2005 BRAC round and they said that you can't expect the DOD 20-year net present value by implementing the 2005 BRAC recommendation has decreased by 72%, so it costs a lot more and saves much less in the long run.
With that, I would encourage my colleagues to reject this amendment after it is indeed offered.