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Wright-Patterson bracing for another round of base closures

2005 BRAC chairman says the Dayton region needs to be prepared ‘in making your case to the BRAC commission.’

Facing massive spending cuts and excess infrastructure, high-ranking Pentagon leaders have urged at least one more round of military base closures, which could start in 2017, the former chairman of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission said Thursday.

The Air Force has 500 fewer aircraft and about 20 percent more infrastructure than the service needs since the last round of base closures eight years ago, said Anthony Principi, former 2005 BRAC chairman and a prior secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The service’s top civilian and military leaders “seem almost desperate” for at least one round of base closures, Principi told an audience gathered at a defense forum at Wright State University.

“If there is one recommendation I can leave with you today it is the need for your preparedness in making your case to the BRAC commission,” he said. “You are on the ground and know your installation probably better than most in the Pentagon and on the BRAC commission.”

Principi was among forum speakers highlighting the prospect of a return of BRAC or the impact of automatic spending cuts known as sequestration.

Also speaking to attendees of the event were:

* Lt. Gen. C.D. Moore II, commander of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base;

* Alan Chovtkin, a vice president and lawyer at the Arlington,Va.-based Professional Services Council;

* Barbara A. Dunscombe, a Dayton lawyer specializing in government contract law with the firm Taft Stettinius & Hollister spoke to attendees, too.

In the last BRAC round, Wright-Patterson gained 1,200 jobs, new missions and more than $300 million in construction, including the biggest base building boom since World War II with the relocation of the Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine from San Antonio, Texas.

But how the Miami Valley base, the largest single site employer in Ohio with more than 29,000 employees at last count, might fare this time remains an open question if BRAC returns.

A new round of shutting domestic military bases would need congressional approval. Principi said a round of closures in 2015 would likely be “dead on arrival” today on Capitol Hill. In the last two decades, lawmakers have historically balked at those calls but eventually agreed to close bases, he said. This time, national security readiness and modernization needs may give Congress “no choice” but to move forward “if not now, certainly by the year 2017,” he said.

The Pentagon has the authority to close overseas bases without an OK from Congress, something Principi said top brass will consider seriously.

Troop and civilian personnel draw downs and sequestration-driven spending cuts have reduced costs and training and military readiness, but not infrastructure, he said. At the same time, the Department of Defense plans to cut 5 percent to 6 percent of its 780,000 civilian workforce in the next five years, he said.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon could confront another $52 billion in sequestration-imposed spending cuts Oct. 1, unless Congress approves the White House’s defense budget, which doesn’t factor in the sequester.

The military faces cutting $37 billion by the end of September and plans to furlough at least 680,000 civilian civil service workers 11 days beginning in July. Thirteen thousand of those work at Wright-Patterson.

“We are living through a time of tremendous turmoil” and “budgetary uncertainty,” said Moore, who oversees a $19 billion budget and 26,000 personnel at 77 locations around the world.

Moore said the anticipated furloughs of 12,000 Life Cycle Management Center civilian workers has led many younger employees to leave.

“We’ve broken faith with our workforce,” the three-star general told attendees. “As I go around the thing that shocked me recently was the number of young, talented new people that have opted to walk.”

Chovtkin said the changes budgetary uncertainty has caused have not been uniform in the market.

“I think there’s no doubt we’re in a market of austerity, confusion and chaos,” Chovtkin said. “There are lots of changes taking place program by program by program.”

Dunscombe said the federal government has cancelled or not extended contract options or chosen cheaper competitors under a “lowest price, technically acceptable” standard. She offered tips urging contractors to make a mission-essential case for federally paid contracts, perform well, strengthen relations with program managers and contract officers, and document contract changes.

“No one in the marketplace is going to expand or succeed by being a wallflower,” she said.

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