During a speech Thursday at an Anniston Kiwanis Club luncheon, Rogers assured local residents they don’t need to worry about the closure of the Anniston Army Depot because Congress likely won’t approve the Defense Department’s plans for rounds of Base Realignment and Closures (BRAC) in 2013 and 2015.
“The Pentagon is still talking about it,” the congressman said of the BRAC plans. “It has no traction in Congress right now.”
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta in January briefed legislators about BRAC and the $487 billion in cuts his department is required by Congress to make. In that briefing, Panetta called the BRAC rounds — which need congressional approval before they can be launched — “a necessity” as the Pentagon reduces the size of its military force.
“We will continue to work to make sure that it’s done effectively and that we achieve the savings that we hope to achieve from the process,” Panetta said, according to a transcript of the briefing provided by the Department of Defense. “But I have to tell you there is — there is no more effective process to make it happen than using the BRAC process.”
Rogers questioned that effectiveness in an interview after the Kiwanis lunch, claiming that the last BRAC in 2005 didn’t save the Pentagon money. A study from the Government Accountability Office states that Pentagon officials overestimated the savings they expected to generate from the 2005 BRAC. The 2009 study also suggested that costs tied to the implementation of the last BRAC top out around $35 billion — 67 percent higher than the costs estimated by the group commissioned to study BRAC.
But a Pentagon spokeswoman said Thursday that it’s inaccurate to say that BRAC doesn’t save money.
“Clearly, if you shut down an installation then you are saving that money in perpetuity because you are consolidating installations,” Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins said. She could not provide specifics about the savings generated by the 2005 BRAC by Thursday evening.
Even if Congress does approve these future BRACs, the military liaison for the Anniston Army Depot said he is not worried about the installation.
“I don’t think it’s caused any alarm,” Military Liaison Nathan Hill said of the Pentagon’s plans. “In all honesty, it would be impossible to do a BRAC round in 2013.”
Hill said it’s too late in the game for an effective BRAC to begin next year, especially without Congressional approval being imminent. And if a BRAC happens in 2015 — or anytime in the near future — the depot is and has been ready, Hill said.
“We never stood down our efforts from the last 2005 BRAC,” he said. “We always thought there would be another BRAC.”
Hill and other local officials have for years focused on promoting the military and economic value of the depot. They are well-acquainted with the effects of base closure: The community lost Fort McClellan in 1999 to a BRAC process in 1995.
“We want to keep workload at the depot,” Hill said. “More importantly, we try to keep the depot postured to have the best military value you can have.”
There are ongoing projects at the depot to do just that, including new facilities for small-arms repairs and industrial waste treatment and the widening of the road that runs through the installation’s main gates. A focus on contracting work for a variety of military branches — for years the depot has been designing and testing vehicles used by the Marine Corps to check for mines in Afghanistan — also helps to ensure the depot’s worth, Hill said.
But, obviously, with the Iraqi war over and the Afghanistan conflict drawing to a close, times aren’t what they were for the installation.
About 500 temporary workers will lose their jobs beginning in March as production slows down. Rogers hopes to hammer out a plan with depot officials that will allow veteran employees to retire early and place temporary workers who’ve lost their jobs into the spots vacated by early retirees.
Rogers said Thursday that he’s received assurances from the Commander of the Army Materiel Command and the Secretary of the Army that they won’t let the number of direct labor hours at the depot fall below 3.2 million per year. That was the installation’s base workload level going into the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
During the wars, workload levels were as high as 6.8 million direct labor hours a year, officials told The Star last November.
Those surge levels aren’t possible now, but Rogers said he believes Army officials when they say they will keep the depot workload from falling below that base number.
“So I feel good about the depot in the near future,” he said. Hill emphasized that the country’s military infrastructure is bound to change as the Department of Defense makes those $487 billion in cuts.
“Some things will be done differently … with the dollars we have available,” Hill said. “We are doing everything we can to keep the jobs and the efforts our military has in this area.”
Star staff writer Cameron Steele: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @Csteele_Star.