Guest speaker at BRAC talk was George Schlossberg, general counsel to the Association of Defense Communities (ADC)

California, MD — Like in a Halloween slasher movie, it’s out there in the dark ready to pounce on unsuspecting St. Mary’s County. It’s not Michael Myers or the Creature from the Black Lagoon. It goes by the name of BRAC and it is deeply feared in a community so dependent on the defense industry.

BRAC stands for Base Realignment and Closure. There have been five of them since 1988 St. Mary’s County in general and the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in particular have been huge beneficiaries. But those were different times; this is the new paradigm of reduced defense spending. The message: it is not the time for the community to let its guard down.

Is another BRAC looming out there? That was the question on the minds of most of the attendees at a program on BRAC hosted by Patuxent Partnership, St. Mary’s County Chamber of Commerce and the Southern Maryland Navy Alliance Nov. 10 at the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center.

Guest speaker George Schlossberg knows firsthand about BRAC. He was an insider in the process while senior counsel in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He was instrumental in drafting and policy implementation of the original 1988 Base Closure Act, the Defense Authorization Amendments and the Base Closure and Realignment Act. He also has written a book entitled “How Congress Cleared the Bases: A Legislative History of BRAC.” He is currently general cpunsel for the Association of Defense Communities and a partner in Kutak Rock, LLC in DC.

So is there going to be another BRAC? Maybe, says Schlossberg of the admittedly political process. The Defense Authorization Bill signed by the Senate later that day contains provisions requiring the Secretary of Defense to make a report to Congress in 90 days that contains some of the components of BRAC. They include a force structure plan, an inventory of installations and a discussion of excess infrastructure. The president is expected to sign the defense authorization.

“Is this [the budget authorization] a BRAC? No, but they [the defense secretary’s submissions] are necessary to have a BRAC,” Schlossberg said.

Schlossberg says the optimal time for the next BRAC would be 2017 after the 2016 presidential election. But he also says that time is running out to do it in 2017 because he has been told it takes two years for staffers to prepare all the material for BRAC.

A BRAC starts with the president making the request to the secretary of Defense, who presents a plan to the independent commission which makes its recommendations to Congress which can only vote the entire plan up or down. The president then makes the final up or down decision. The president has supported all five previous BRACs.

In response to a question, Schlossberg said the audit of the savings from the previous BRACs has fallen short of projected savings, But he added, “They’ve all paid for themselves.”

In response to a question from The BayNet, Schlossberg said that the community’s infrastructure (schools, roads, etc.) are an important part of BRAC decisions. He mentioned as an example a recent community meeting he attended in Fayetteville, NC. A retiring commander of a Coast Guard facility said he was having difficulty getting Coast Guard personnel willing transfer to his base because of the quality of the area schools. “Those things matter. They matter in retentions and that means a lot,” he said.

In response to another question, Schlossberg admitted that there has been a drying up of interest in funding Pax River’s main Research, Development, Test and Evaluation mission as opposed to the operational side. “As far as cost is important, the operational facilities will take precedence.” Since cost is a component of BRAC decisions, that could have an impact on Pax River.

In response to a question from St. Mary’s County Commissioner Todd Morgan, Schlossberg said that community/base relationships are important. But he added, “It’s more than just liking each other. It’s working together.”

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