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Audit reviews BRAC savings

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WASHINGTON — The 2005 round of military base closures that spared Fort Drum will cost billions of dollars more, and save tens of millions less, than officials originally predicted, a federal audit indicates.

Researchers at the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported Friday that the 2005 round will cost $34.9 billion, up from the $21 billion that the Base Realignment and Closure Commission told Congress in September 2005.

On top of that 67 percent increase, the recurring savings from the round are now estimated at $3.9 billion a year, or $94 million less than the commission told lawmakers.

That means the Pentagon will not break even on the 2005 round until 2018, five years later than originally promised, the GAO reported.

The findings appear to validate arguments by congressional critics of base realignment, including former Rep. John M. McHugh, R-Pierrepont Manor, that estimated costs and savings are open to doubt. Mr. McHugh, now secretary of the Army, reluctantly supported the Bush administration's proposal.

The Defense Department agreed with the GAO's findings.

"Even though the BRAC 2005 round is costing more and savings are less than originally estimated in 2005, implementation of these recommendations is an important element of the Defense Department's ongoing effort to reshape our infrastructure to respond to global challenges," said Dorothy Robyn, deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment, in a letter responding to the GAO.

GAO investigators found that most of the cost increases are tied to construction, the largest being the closure of Walter Reed Army Medical Center and related expansion of the Bethesda National Naval Medical Center.

The Army, which faces the greatest BRAC-related costs, saw its estimated implementation expense climb from $17.3 billion last year to $18.2 billion this year, a 5 percent increase.

Defense officials and the GAO disagree about the estimates of savings. While the GAO repeated in its report a long-standing assertion that the Pentagon overstates savings, the sides disagree about savings from eliminating military personnel positions — a major source of the savings the Defense Department predicts.

In addition, the GAO estimated that 76 of the 182 recommendations in the base realignment plan will achieve no net savings.

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