Defense Planning:

DOD Needs to Review the Costs and Benefits of Basing Alternatives for Army Forces in Europe

GAO-10-745R: Published: Sep 13, 2010. Publicly Released: Sep 13, 2010.

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Since the early 1990s, the Army has reduced its force presence in Europe by bringing troops and their families back to the United States and consolidating remaining forces and infrastructure at fewer locations. In 2004, the Department of Defense (DOD) announced an overseas basing strategy that called for further decreases of U.S. forces in Europe. As a result, the Army initiated actions to reduce personnel stationed in Europe by 30,000 personnel by fiscal year 2013 and reduce the number of Army brigade combat teams in Europe from four to two. Since 2004, the Army has consolidated operational forces close to the European training facility at Grafenwoehr, Germany and at Vicenza, Italy. The consolidation included significant investments to construct new or renovate facilities at remaining bases to improve the quality of life for soldiers and their families. To help offset the costs of these investments, the Army closed some bases in Germany and has planned additional closures. Amid the implementation of the Army's draw down in Europe, DOD announced in the February 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review that it would retain the four Army brigade combat teams in Europe, rather than return two to the United States as originally planned, pending the outcome of a review of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization strategic concept and ongoing U.S. defense posture reviews. The DOD announcement cast considerable uncertainty on the Army's future force structure in Europe. For instance, the Army will now retain installations to house the brigades for an indefinite period of time while decisions are made. Regardless of these decisions, the Army is planning future investments of almost $200 million in Europe to construct a new theater-level Army headquarters facility at Wiesbaden, Germany and the TRICARE Management Agency is planning a future investment of approximately $1.2 billion to replace aging medical facilities at Ramstein and Landstuhl, Germany with a new consolidated medical center adjacent to Ramstein Air Base in Kaiserslautern, Germany. In light of these significant investments and the uncertainty about the Army's future force structure in Europe, Congress asked us to assess (1) the cost implications of potentially keeping more Army forces in Europe than originally planned, and the extent to which the Army's plans align with an evolving European strategic concept and U.S. posture plans, and (2) whether the process used by the Army to determine facility requirements provides an adequate basis for its infrastructure plans.

Keeping more Army forces in Europe than originally planned would result in significant additional costs; however, it is unclear the extent to which DOD plans to weigh these costs against the benefits of having additional forces overseas, especially in light of an evolving European strategic concept and U.S. posture plans. In the near term, delays in decisions associated with two initiatives will impact the Army's costs in Europe. First, prior to the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, the Army had planned to return two of four brigade combat teams stationed in Europe to the United States in fiscal years 2012 and 2013, which would have saved millions annually in overseas stationing costs by allowing the closure of installations located at Bamberg and Schweinfurt, Germany. However, these plans are on hold pending an announcement of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's strategic concept planned to be announced in November 2010, as well as ongoing U.S. assessments of the global defense posture, which have a less clear time frame for completion. The decision to retain these brigades in Europe will require the Army to seek funding of roughly $176 million annually to support the Bamberg and Schweinfurt communities beginning in fiscal year 2013, according to Army estimates. Second, U.S. Army Europe estimated that closing Heidelberg and moving its headquarters to Wiesbaden would save hundreds of millions of dollars annually beginning in 2013. However, because of uncertainty for the funding of construction in Wiesbaden, Heidelberg will remain open longer than originally planned and the previously estimated savings will be delayed by 2 years or more. As a result, the Army estimates it will need approximately $150 million annually to support continued operations. Both our review and an analysis performed by the Army found gaps in the support used to justify the decision to close Heidelberg and consolidate forces in Wiesbaden. Our work revealed that the original analyses were poorly documented, limited in scope, and based on questionable assumptions. Department of the Army officials also found the U.S. Army Europe's original analysis inadequate and performed another more detailed analysis in mid-2009 that affirmed the decision to consolidate but lowered the estimated savings. The Army estimates that, depending upon the assumptions used, it will potentially cost between $1 billion and $2 billion more from fiscal years 2012-2021 to keep the two brigades in Europe than it would cost to return them to the United States.1 DOD is reconsidering retaining the brigades in Europe in part because senior military officials in Europe have said that four brigade combat teams in Europe are needed to meet operational and mission requirements. According to DOD officials, the evaluation of U.S. forces in Europe will be primarily focused on whether four combat brigades will be retained in Europe. We are recommending that DOD require the Army to conduct a comprehensive analysis of alternatives for stationing forces in Europe that, at a minimum, should be done as expeditiously as possible upon the completion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's strategic concept announcement and consider the costs and benefits of a range of force structure and basing alternatives. Additionally, we are recommending that the Army develop a consistent process to determine specific facility requirements associated with the various basing options. In written comments on a draft of this correspondence, DOD stated that it concurred with our recommendations and have already initiated a strategy-based assessment of U.S. defense posture to be completed by the end of calendar year 2010 and that the Army intends to develop a central, on line classified site containing Army Stationing and Installation Plan population data that will reflect out-year stationing decisions that are classified due to host-nation sensitivity.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD stated in its initial comments that the Department was conducting a strategy-based assessment of U.S. defense posture, including a broad review of the European theater and analysis of the total ground force requirement in Europe. DOD anticipated that its assessment would be complete by the end of calendar year 2010. On 8/9/11 we received an update and according to HQDA, since the release of the GAO report the President announced his decision to withdraw a Brigade Combat Team (BCT) from Europe. The United States Army Europe (USAREUR) is conducting an analysis of alternatives that will inform the decision on which BCT will be withdrawn and a rebasing plan for the remaining forces in Europe. Additionally, the Army is conducting a total analysis of force structure that potentially affects the configuration of units. These studies are anticipated to be completed by the end of 2011. On 7/12/12 we received an update and according According to Army officials, in 2011 the Army conducted an analysis of alternatives to inform decision making on which brigade combat teams would be withdrawn from Europe and a rebasing plan for the remaining forces in Europe. In February 2012, the Army announced its posture decisions to permanently reduce stationed U.S. ground forces in Europe. These force structure changes reflected strategic guidance issued by the Department of Defense and an analysis of the total Army force structure. As a result, GAO believes the Army has met the intent of the recommendation and is closing it.

    Recommendation: To take advantage of the pause before final decisions on the Army's European force structure are made and determine the best course of action for its European posture, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to conduct a comprehensive analysis of alternatives for stationing forces in Europe. At a minimum, the review should be done as expeditiously as possible upon the completion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's strategic concept announcement and consider the costs and benefits of a range of force structure and basing alternatives.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Army intends to develop a central, on line classified site containing Army Stationing and Installation Plan population data that will reflect out-year stationing decisions that are classified due to host-nation sensitivity. 8/9/11 According to ACSIM officials they have coordinated with Installation Management Command Europe and developed a central on-line classified site containing Army Stationing and Installation Plan (ASIP) population data that would reflect out-year overseas stationing decisions that are classified due to host nation sensitivity. The classified database is currently being tested and is expected to be fully operational capable in September 2011. On 7/12/12 we received an update. According to HQDA, OACSIM officials In accordance with GAO-10-745R recommendation ACSIM in coordination with IMCOM Europe developed a central on-line classified site containing Europe's Army Stationing and Installation Plan (ASIP) population data that would reflect out-year overseas stationing decisions that are classified due to host nation sensitivity. The classified database has tested and was fully operational capable in September 2011. As a result, GAO believes the Army has met the intent of the recommendation and is closing it.

    Recommendation: To take advantage of the pause before final decisions on the Army's European force structure are made and determine the best course of action for its European posture, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Army to develop a consistent process to determine specific facility requirements associated with the various options.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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