December 22, 2016

Looking Forward – Defense Issues in 2017

Military Color Guard at University of Colorado Springs Campus

By: Andy Merritt, Chief Defense Industry Officer

2016 was a good year for our region on the defense front.  We saw new units move here, our region was recognized with the inaugural Great American Defense Community award by the Association of Defense Communities (ADC),  we celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Military Affairs Council and we worked with many local defense contractors who expanded their presence here. We also expanded our involvement with the ADC and were honored with the Member of the Year award for 2016. MAC chair Keith Klaehn and I have been heavily involved since joining which allowed me the opportunity to attend the ADC Defense Policy Forum in Washington DC earlier in December.

The Defense Policy Forum gave me a glimpse at what may lie ahead. Here are a few items we discussed:

Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC)
DOD has been calling for a new BRAC round for several years.  They have built their argument around excess capacity in facilities that exists, especially in the Air Force and Army.  There were several interesting comments from Defense experts at the forum relating to BRAC.  The general agreement was that BRAC would not likely be an early target of the Trump administration. They will be looking to increase end strength first. There were a few counterarguments though.

Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies suggested a targeted BRAC may be the way to go.  He cited statistics from an March 2016 DOD report that showed a 54% excess capacity number within the Air Force Space Operations category.  Given the role of our local installations in the Space Operations realm, this is something we will need to pay attention to going forward.

The other comment worth noting was that a BRAC is the best way to eliminate large blocks of civilian positions, and given a subsequent report showing there are roughly 1 million support positions within DOD, compared to 1.3 million active duty, this could be another reason a Trump administration may later seek a BRAC.

Military Construction (milcon) plus-ups
One interesting discussion was around the idea of including increases in milcon spending in a Trump administration infrastructure package.  The argument is that DOD has a backlog of necessary milcon to support their requirements and those are all “shovel ready” projects that could be undertaken quickly.  The benefit would both accrue to the economy by producing jobs immediately and have a positive outcome on military readiness.  The Army Corps of Engineers who oversee milcon projects has a good track record of successfully completing them.  This idea has been taken up by ADC and they will be pitching it to key members of the Trump administration.  There is a list of milcon projects for our local bases that are awaiting funding, so it could be a direct benefit to the Colorado Springs region.

Clues to the future (further reading)
Multiple speakers shared two sources for more information moving forward. The first, House Speaker Paul Ryan’s A Better Way plan. Second, the Heritage Foundation’s writings on defense issues.