Recent speculation that Congress won’t authorize a new round of military base closings until 2017 has led several local and community officials to believe that our military bases are safe until then, when in reality the impacts of sequestration are already being felt within our local military community.
Congress’s refusal to authorize a new Base Realignment and Closure Commission does nothing to delay the $1.2 trillion in forced reductions that are resulting from sequestration and the debt-ceiling agreement. And even if Congress reaches an agreement to reverse the effects of sequestration, the Defense Department still must reduce costs by at least $490 billion and possibly as much as $800 billion.
BRAC or not, the military is scheduled for major restructuring. That means the ongoing reduction in the Army by 80,000 troops, producing a smaller force that logically would mean fewer bases to train and house our soldiers. John Conger, acting deputy under secretary of defense for installations and environment, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 24, “We’re not sitting idle waiting for BRAC.”
The Defense Department and the various services have been aggressive in using other processes to reshape their infrastructure. Just ask our friends in the Tidewater region of Virginia. In 2011, then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates, using authority that doesn’t need a BRAC, disestablished Joint Forces Command, in a move that some estimate cost the region 10,800 jobs and $600 million in taxable income.
Fort Jackson is a unique, irreplaceable military asset with room to expand and is surrounded by a community that would welcome the growth. Columbia and the entire Midlands region are proud to be considered the “most military-friendly community” in the United States. However, we would be remiss if we didn’t look at the funding challenges facing the Defense Department as a threat to the defense infrastructure locally and throughout the state of South Carolina.
The administration has given every indication that it is planning for sequestration to continue. Just last month, the Office of Management and Budget sent out a memo requesting agencies to plan for an additional 5 percent reduction in their 2015 budgets. That is a starting point; the budget approved by Congress could be significantly less. While Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel denied he was going to “cut the heart out of the Pentagon,” he recently indicated the spending cuts were going to happen. “I can’t lead my institution into a swamp of knife-fighting over protesting what’s already in place.”
The defense budget is getting to the point where the “easy” cuts have already been made. Personnel costs and health care are untouchable. Cuts in direct support to deployed troops, including body armor, weapons, ammunition and contingency support, directly impact national security and are also unlikely to face near-term reduction. We are rapidly approaching the point where reducing defense infrastructure is one of the only options left to secure savings.
This community needs help in Washington now more than ever to influence how and where the Pentagon and Obama administration make cuts in light of sequestration. We need the work of the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce, its military committee and the Governor’s Military Bases Task Force and the understanding and focus of our elected and community leaders now more than ever.
We cannot afford to lose this great asset that brings our region growth and stability. Don’t let these cuts be on the backs of the Midlands community, our local military installations and defense industry partners. It is imperative that our community continues to advocate on behalf of our local military bases.
Gen. Goldsmith chairs the Columbia Chamber Military Affairs Committee and serves on the Governor’s Military Bases Task Force; contact him at email@example.com.