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Future military base closures inevitable, Panetta warns

Though Congress has quashed any new round of base closures in its latest funding bill, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Monday called shutting down some excess military installations inevitable as the Pentagon seeks to shed operating costs.

"Now may not be the time for (Base Closure and Realignment Commission) as our economy recovers, but sooner or later, one way or another, the department is going to need to take a hard look at its basing infrastructure as we seek to reduce our overhead costs," Panetta told a meeting of the Association of Defense Communities in Monterey, Calif., according to a report of the speech from National Defense magazine.

Talk of BRAC, which is formed to slash military expenses and make operations more efficient, leads to widespread consternation in many military communities, which fear loss of jobs and trouble planning for roads and other services.

The latest round took place in 2005 and was just completed last fall. It involved closing 24 major installations and consolidating other service-specific bases into joint installations.

In New Jersey, McGuire Air Force Base, Fort Dix and Naval Air Station Lakehurst were combined to form Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst. And in Washington state, Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base became Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The joint bases share administrative and support operations.

Panetta had proposed new rounds of BRAC discussions for 2013 and 2015, but the House Armed Services Committee in May voted down funding of such efforts.

Still, Panetta sees base closings and realignments as an important way to cut costs.

“It is a debate we must continue,” Panetta said, according to National Defense. “Based on conservative estimates, the first four rounds of BRAC are producing annual savings of $8 billion, and the comparable figure for the 2005 round is $4 billion.”

Panetta said on Monday that base closures not only save money but provide a way to transfer ownership of government property that can spur private economic development in those communities.

A report by the Government Accountability Office, found that the 2005 BRAC round cost $35.1 billion to execute with net savings not realized until 2018. Previous base closings in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995 were less complex and generated savings more quickly.

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