Army: Sequestration to cause ‘domino effect’ on base maintenance

After two years of operating under sequestration level funding, the Army now faces a $3 billion maintenance backlog and 5,500 work orders, said Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for installations, energy and environment.

The backlog will continue to grow under sequestration levels and create a domino effect, Hammack said on In Depth with Francis Rose.

“If we don’t sustain [facilities], we fall into the next category of restoration and modernizations costs, and the backlog in that category has increased 9.3 percent,” Hammack said. “And if we don’t have the funding to catch up with projects in restoration and modernization, they slip into the failing category, where your only choice is replacement.”

The Navy had such an incident happen last year. A 15-foot sinkhole opened on the primary runway at the naval air station in Jacksonville, Florida, because of a sewer pipe. The emergency repairs ended up costing $52 million.

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The maintenance backlog is part of the reason the Army’s 2016 budget request asks for $6 billion above sequestration levels. The entire Defense Department is asking for $35 billion above sequestration levels.

As part of the Army’s budget request, it asked for a 26 percent increase over this year in military construction, family housing and base closure.

“Some might think that’s high, but if you look at it, in reality it’s a 33 percent reduction from 2014, and a 55 percent reduction from 2013,” Hammack said. “It is still a very low budget.”

Earlier this year, DoD announced it will close 15 sites in Europe, as part of the European Infrastructure Consolidation.

For that initiative, the Army prioritized European bases based on their perceived military value. Training ranges and air bases rose to the top of that list, while an old water treatment plant was on the chopping block.

Base Realignment and Closure has long been a sore subject between the Army and Congress. The last round of BRAC left a “bad taste” in many lawmakers’ mouths because of the high initial costs to close the bases.

The Army asked Congress for authorization in 2016 for Congress to vote on another round of BRAC in 2017.

“In the meetings I’ve had, it seems that 75 percent or more members of Congress are receptive to a BRAC, because the conversations are, ‘What would the next round of BRAC look like?’ not ‘Do we need a BRAC?'” Hammack said.

She said the Army sees it as a positive step that lawmakers are willing to discuss the subject.

“The reality is, we don’t have the money to run the number of bases that we have,” Hammack said.

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