By Bill Buratto
Ventura County Star – Saturday, March 3, 2012
On Jan. 26, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced the 2013 Defense Budget, cutting $487 billion over 10 years as mandated by the Congress in the Budget Control Act of last summer.
He also recommended that President Obama seek authorization from Congress to conduct two rounds of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC), one in 2013 and another in 2015.
The call for another BRAC has sparked much consternation among Congress and local communities.
Not surprisingly, most local articles and op-ed pieces across the country speak to the uniqueness of a community’s local base and how well-positioned it is for another round of BRAC. At the same time, many reference the gearing up of local efforts for BRAC.
It is hard to tell whether Congress will give authorization for BRAC anytime soon. It’s an election year and congressional leaders, particularly those with military installations in their districts, may not want to deal with the issue. Rep. Buck McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, whose 25th Congressional District now includes Simi Valley, has vowed to “kill it.”
But, the BRAC process can be an effective and perhaps fairest way to achieve the proposed budget cuts, force reductions and transformations. To take away closing and realigning installations from the equation will mean deeper cuts to force strength and weapons systems and further weaken national security. I believe this is a compelling argument and that Congress will eventually give the authorization, most likely in 2015.
Another round of BRAC does not mean Naval Base Ventura County will be closed. Its geography, natural assets and critical missions on the West Coast are valuable to our national security.
Secretary Panetta’s plan calls for a focus on the Pacific Asian theater and the Navy will continue to play a major role in our national defense. But, this does mean that NBVC could lose jobs, if we don’t prepare to advocate on its behalf.
As the county’s largest employer, NBVC is vital to the regional economy. A recent economic impact study conducted by the Navy, using 2010 data, shows the base pumps $1.99 billion annually into our local economy and is responsible for 20,000 direct and indirect jobs.
Those who were around during the 1995 and 2005 BRACs will recall that NBVC has had its fair share of BRAC-related turmoil. In 1995, rather than closing Point Mugu, Naval Air Station Point Mugu and Construction Battalion Center Port Hueneme were combined into what we now call Naval Base Ventura County. A huge success for Ventura County and the local economy.
In 2005, the initial recommendation from the Defense Department was to move more than 5,000 jobs to other installations, primarily to China Lake in Ridgecrest. Ventura County Economic Development Association provided the leadership to form the BRAC 2005 Task Force.
We brought together elected officials, business leaders and community members to develop and execute a strategy. The hard work of all paid off. We ended up only losing about 400 jobs.
This BRAC will be different because of the budget cutting and transformational aspects of Panetta’s plan. In prior BRACs, the assumption was that the defense budget would continue to grow. The mandated $487 billion in cuts over the next 10 years will add another level of complexity and urgency to the process.
Another potentially confounding factor is that these proposed cuts do not take into account the possible $600 billion in cuts, over 10 years, that are to go into effect in January 2013 as a result of the failed supercommittee in 2011. If those cuts are imposed it could really mean “the BRAC to end all BRACs.”
When a base is closed not all missions and functions are necessarily axed. Some are “realigned” to other installations. The strategic challenge for Ventura County is to not only keep what we already have but advocate for NBVC’s capabilities to acquire new missions and commands.
Once again, VCEDA stands ready to help preserve and enhance the importance of NBVC to our national security and local economy. When the next round of BRAC is announced, we ask all county citizens to join us.