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Army installation chief asks for new BRAC round to improve readiness, morale

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (June 09, 2017) -- There's a lot of excess infrastructure in the Army -- about 161 million square feet of it. And paying to maintain that is costing the Army a lot of money. These vital resources could instead be used to reduce maintenance backlogs on about 33,000 facilities across the force that are now deemed in "poor or failing condition."

Lt. Gen. Gwen Bingham, the Army's assistant chief of staff for installation management, told lawmakers during a June 6 hearing on Capitol Hill that the Army has a deferred maintenance backlog on infrastructure of about $10.8 billion. That accounts for about 22 percent of the Army's buildings and means more than one in five buildings are in poor condition.

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"The condition of these mission facilities -- airfields, training areas, maintenance facilities, roads, ports, dams, bridges, housing and barracks -- directly impacts the readiness of our units and the morale of our Soldiers, civilians and families," Bingham said.

Bingham testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee -- Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans' Affairs and Related Agencies.

Another round of base realignment and closure, or BRAC, she said, would mean that excess facilities around the Army could be closed, and would no longer need to be maintained -- they could be demolished. Additionally, dollars saved from no longer having to maintain those facilities could also be applied toward repairing facilities that the Army continues to need, and toward other readiness priorities of the Army.

"The Army has infrastructure capacity in excess of any foreseeable future force structure, not always located where it is needed, but consuming precious dollars that could be better invested elsewhere," Bingham said. "BRAC preserves irreplaceable training land and airspace, while eliminating unneeded assets and excess buildings to efficiently facilitate future growth."

The fiscal year 2018 budget request for the Army, released May 23, includes about $1.79 billion for facilities. That's allocation for $1.2 billion for military construction, $529 million for family housing, and $58 million to continue execution of the last BRAC round, which happened in 2005.

Bingham said she's grateful for the budget request, and hopes Congress will approve it, but that the request is still lower than what is needed. Because the Army continues to prioritize readiness over everything else, she said, it is taking risks in facilities maintenance. Still, she said, the budget request for military construction this year is 40 percent more than what it was in 2015.

"This increase demonstrates the Army's intention to reverse past underfunding, admittedly over an extended timeframe," Bingham said. "When you combine the sustainment funding, the restoration and modernization, coupled with the [military construction], this FY18 budget request, if approved, will be able to arrest the accelerated trend in facility degradation. We are grateful for that."

Bingham also explained to lawmakers the Army's "three-pronged" effort to reset its backlog of facilities that are in poor condition.

First, she said, resources are being directed now to sustain facilities that are currently in good condition, so that those facilities don't fall into a state of disrepair.

Additionally, she said, the Army is applying resources to go after the $10.8 billion deferred maintenance backlog. "We apply resources to modernize and upgrade our facilities to keep pace with our execution of our missions," she explained. As part of that, the Army will demolish some buildings as funds are available.

Finally, she said, the Army started a new initiative about a year ago called "'Reduce the Footprint."

"We are consolidating all of our men and women into our best facilities first, and then being able to rid ourselves of facilities that are in failed conditions," she explained. "We know we have about 161 million square feet of excess capacity. We programmed that we could probably account for about 33 million in excess."

Even with the "Reduce the Footprint" initiative, she said, the Army will be left with about 128 million square feet of excess facility space. And she said that the Army would like to stop worrying about maintaining that space.

"Save from having a BRAC, that's about all we'll be able to do as it relates to diminishing our excess," she said.

Bingham also told lawmakers that the return of sequestration or another continuing resolution would "have a devastating impact on our men and women. Not only the morale, but also the state of affairs of our infrastructure."

She said that Army installations can only be ready and resilient with "adequate, predictable, and sustained funding -- and the authority to implement efficiency measures such as closing and realigning our installations."

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