Excess facilities must close, Army tells veterans

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (June 23, 2016) -- The Army is spending at least $500 million annually to maintain excess infrastructure, a facilities expert told veterans and other groups visiting the Pentagon.

About 30 representatives from veterans' service organizations, military service organizations, non-federal entities and defense community associations met for a summit in the Pentagon, June 23 to meet with Army leaders on an array of topics relevant to their own service missions.

Andy Napoli, assistant for Base Realignment and Closure with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment, discussed the urgent need for the Army to reduce excess infrastructure, as a way to free up now dwindling resources for use in more critical areas.

"The real issue is underutilized capacity that is costing a lot of money," Napoli said. "It costs roughly the same amount of money to heat and cool a building and operate it, whether it has 100-percent occupancy or 50-percent occupancy."

Napoli said that there are not a lot of empty buildings on Army bases, but there are a lot of buildings that aren't fully utilized. Whether full or only partially full, he said, it costs roughly the same to sustain that infrastructure. He said Army-wide, it's about an average of $3 per square foot to maintain that infrastructure.

"When you run the math of 170 million square feet of underutilized space times $3 a square foot, you end up with about $500 million of carrying cost," he said. "That's a conservative estimate."

"It's not enough though to shut down those buildings," Napoli said. Rather, missions and capabilities must be consolidated on other installations, and whole installations must be closed to find truly beneficial cost savings.

Running a whole installation, he said, is extremely costly, as there are services that must be provided across an installation at a cost that really can't be reduced along with the number of Soldiers and families on an installation. A sexual assault program costs about the same on a large base as it does on a small base, for instance -- it's a pretty fixed hierarchy to run such a program. And base services still need to be provided -- garbage collection, for instance, or pothole repair.

"What that really means is that our force structure and our population goes down, unless you are closing an installation and permanently eliminating that requirement, you're not going to have a lot of opportunity to save money," Napoli said.

"If we try to spread declining resources across all 155 installations the Army owns and operates, you are going to get mediocre services everywhere," he said. "If you can concentrate the resources at a smaller number of installations, you can get better service."

Diane Randon, the acting assistant chief of staff for Installation Management, told MSO and VSO visitors that ACSIM is responsible for getting resources to installations for things like fire and emergency services, law enforcement, family programs, Soldier readiness programs, and training ranges, for instance.

Also, she said, they are responsible for the infrastructure piece -- investing in facilities and military construction, for instance.

But the Army is not getting the funding it needs to sustain these things, she said.

"We don't really get what we say we need," she said, though she conceded, "we haven't gotten the worst we could have gotten."

She said the Army isn't getting the appropriate funding it needs for its restoration and modernization account -- "that account is also deficient" she said, as is military constriction, or MILCON. "It's at a historic low."

She said the Army needs to "reduce the footprint" it maintains. With reduction of end strength, with less people, and less families, there is excess capacity.

"When we have excess capacity of our infrastructure, and we really don't have the investment that we need to preserve that current footprint -- which includes leases - what strategy do we employ to drive footprint reduction?"

She said figuring out how to reduce that footprint has senior leader attention, to figure out how the Army can consolidate into its best facilities, and then how to divest or repurpose current facilities.

Maj. Gen. Michael Smith, acting chief of the Army Reserve, said the Reserve is "really here for one purpose, and that is to support the Army."

The Reserve, he said, is authorized 198,000 Soldiers, but stands at a little more that than about 199,000. "Our retention rate's up, and we are hitting our recruiting targets," he said.

But Smith said he's concerned that the Reserve doesn't really have the right people at the right ranks right now.

He said the Reserve has a lot of junior Soldiers, and plenty of lieutenants. It needs captains and majors, as well as staff sergeants and sergeants first class.

"Our challenge is to continue to grow those young adults," he said, to get them to re-enlist, for instance, and then at the five-to-seven-year mark, "they begin filling those ranks that we are in need of, so we can round out our formation."

He said one way of getting more experienced Soldiers in the ranks is the Soldier for Life program. He is looking at active-duty Soldiers who are leaving the services, and offering them the chance to do what they want: pursue a civilian career, and also continue to wear the uniform. A little less than 20 percent of active-duty Soldiers, he said, will stay for a full 20 years to earn a retirement there. Many could continue on in the Army Reserve.

"When somebody joins the active duty, they serve, do their time, six years or eight years, and then they want to pursue their civilian career -- they want to pursue their dream," Smith said. "They have served; they enjoy wearing the uniform, but now they have a family ... they want to be part of the community again. We like to talk to them and encourage them to serve in uniform."

Smith also assured MSO/VSO representatives that following the release of the National Commission on the Future of the Army report, which came out in January, that decisions on how to react to the recommendations laid out in that report would be a total-force effort. He said general officers from the Regular Army, Army Reserve and Army National Guard were working together on how to respond.

Col. Sam Cook, director, U. S. Army Reserve Strategic Equipping Division, said he's primarily concerned that the Army Reserve will fall behind in technological savvy without appropriate funding.

He compared the concern to that posed by his own daughters, whom he said tease him about his now-antiquated flip phone that is incompatible with the latest technology now available.

Reserve Soldiers today the best trained and equipped that they have ever been, Cook said, but hot spots are popping up around the globe.

"I see an increase in demand for reserve-component capabilities and assets," he said.

He's concerned that limited funding to the reserve-component will mean that Reserve Soldiers might not always have the best, and will not be able to keep up or be compatible with Regular Army Soldiers they support.

"I'm concerned maybe some of the fiscal and budgeting and resourcing are not keeping pace," he said. "It'll take dedicated and sustained funding to ensure our Soldiers are always equipped with the latest and greatest, the most modern equipment, so they can be seamlessly integrated into the operational force and they can continue to answer our nation's call."