Sometimes amid the cacophony of cries to reduce government spending, calls will ring out for another round of BRACs – the Base Realignment and Closure process where U.S. military bases are closed and turned over to civilian authorities for reuse. Quick savings can be realized, enthusiasts say, and the government can spend its money on things that matter more.
But the reality is virtually never so straight forward. A case in point (and there are many) – Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, which once occupied a prime piece of bayside waterfront real estate in South San Francisco, just below the city proper. The Navy shut the shipyard in 1974 as a cost-reduction effort, and the entire facility was closed in 1994 for cleanup and eventual turnover.
But today, there are no high-rise office towers on the site. No luxury condominiums, no housing, no gardens, no playgrounds. Most of the base infrastructure is still there, decaying and slowly — and expensively — undergoing environmental remediation.
Nearly 19 years after the government nominally left Hunters Point, the Pentagon is still spending millions to clean it up. On June 10, an $8.5 million task order was issued by the Navy to haul away or recycle “waste oil, green waste, and miscellaneous construction debris” — part of a $500 million contract issued in March 2011 for more cleanup. The expectation is the work under that 2011 contract will go on at least until March 2016 — 22 years after BRAC closed the facility and 42 years after the Navy closed the shipyard.
Yes, cleanup authorities face serious and stringent requirements to clean up Hunters Point – surely one of the more difficult sites to cleanse among the BRAC’ed properties. But similar problems face many other closed military industrial facilities, and expensive environmental cleanup issues are encountered with virtually any other long-standing military facility dating from previous centuries.
The lesson is fairly simple. Base closures can reduce operating costs tremendously and eliminate waste and duplication. But fulfilling the requirements for a full BRAC – while very much a government responsibility – is no panacea in the search for quick savings.
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