DOD hasn't fully calculated cost of shifting Pacific forces, GAO says
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The U.S. military is moving ahead with one of the largest shift of Pacific forces since World War II without a good idea of how much it will cost or if the country can afford the bill, federal auditors said this week.
A report by the Government Accountability Office shows the realignment of forces in South Korea, Japan and Guam could cost the United States and its allies more than $46 billion this decade. Military estimates of the various components have been inaccurate or nonexistent, the report said.
Meanwhile, the Defense Department has not fully considered alternatives that could prove to be more effective and affordable, the GAO said.
The report adds to growing doubt in recent weeks over the long-planned overhaul in the region, which could eventually allow servicemembers in South Korea to bring families along for three-year tours, reduce the controversial presence of Marines on Okinawa, and turn Guam into a major military hub in the Pacific.
Earlier this month, three influential U.S. senators called the plans “unrealistic, unworkable and unaffordable” and urged the DOD to scrap pieces of the realignment, such as moving Marine Corps Air Station Futenma farther north to a less-populated area of Okinawa.
“The GAO’s findings stress the importance of resolving U.S. basing realignments in a timely manner. … This is precisely what I and senators (Carl) Levin and (John) McCain recently recommended to the secretary of defense,” Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., chair of a Senate Armed Services subcommittee, said in a prepared statement Thursday.
Officials at U.S. Forces Japan would not comment on the report. U.S. Forces Korea referred all questions to the Office of Secretary of Defense on Friday.
The shift of forces has been years in the making – 16 years in the case of Futenma – but remains steeped in uncertainty despite the best efforts of the military. Last week, the Japanese government said for the first time that the 2014 deadline for completing the realignment in Japan and Guam is impossible to meet.
Also, the cost of military projects such as the realignment has come under more scrutiny as the United States weathers lean financial times and the DOD tries to cut $100 billion from its budget over the next five years.
“Across the Pacific region, DOD has embarked on complex initiatives to transform U.S. military posture and these initiatives involve major construction programs and the movement of tens of thousands of DOD civilian and military personnel and dependents — at an undetermined total cost to the United States and host nations,” according to the report.
In South Korea, the DOD has so far identified $18 billion in costs but does not know the full price tag of the realignment, which includes consolidating forces south of Seoul and giving soldiers longer three-year tours so they can bring along families, the GAO said.
The accompanied tours will mean moving thousands of DOD civilians into South Korea and require the construction of schools, hospitals and other facilities to support them. At Camp Humphreys, where most of the new residents would live, the military plans to add more than 1,000 new structures, including five new schools and assorted housing plus 2,320 acres of new land at an estimated cost of $13.1 billion, according to the GAO. But the increase in population will require seven additional schools and additional increases in housing, post offices and commissaries. The plan may also requiring buying even more land, the GAO said.
Work has already begun on the project without considering the addition needs and costly modifications could be needed after major construction begins, according to the report.
The longer tours could also require U.S. pilots to travel to Alaska for required training because Osan Air Base is shared with Korean forces and cannot provide enough flight opportunities to train during a three-year deployment, the report said.
DOD is moving thousands of dependents to South Korea and building hundreds of new facilities “without fully understanding the costs involved or considering potential alternatives that might more efficiently achieve its strategic objectives,” the report said.
In Japan, the DOD has not estimated the costs of operating and maintaining new facilities that will be built when bases from Okinawa to Tokyo are realigned, and is, instead, relying only on price figures put together by the Japanese government in 2006, the GAO said.
Japan will pay about $9.8 billion for the construction work needed to move Futenma air base and Marine forces farther north on Okinawa, relocate an air wing from Atsugi to Iwakuni, and co-locate Japan air forces at Yokota Air Base.
“Although the government of Japan has agreed to construct new facilities as part of the realignment of U.S. military forces in Japan, DOD is responsible for the costs to furnish, equip, and maintain those facilities to make them usable, and for operation and support costs, but DOD has not yet estimated those costs,” the GAO found.
Just on Okinawa, Japan would construct 321 buildings and 573 housing units that DOD would need to furnish and equip.
Meanwhile, the cost to move 8,600 Marines and about 9,000 dependents from Okinawa to Guam will be split by the two countries. Japan plans to pay $6.1 billion and the U.S. will chip in $4.2 billion.
But the Marine Corps estimates the move will require another $7.1 billion — $4.7 billion for construction and another $2.4 billion for utilities, labor and equipment procurement, the GAO said.
Possible additional costs for the Guam move have not yet been acknowledged by the DOD, the agency said.
Overall, the massive realignment effort in South Korea, Japan and Guam lacks key cost information that should be compiled by DOD so it can be used by government leaders and Congress to decide on whether to follow through with the effort, the agency said.
“DOD is unable to ensure that all costs are fully accounted for or determine if resources are adequate to support the [realignment] program,” according to the report.
The DOD agreed with most of the GAO’s recommendations to complete business case analysis for the projects and to develop annual cost estimates for the U.S. military posture in the Pacific, the report said. However, the DOD did not indicate the specific steps or time frames in which corrective actions would be taken, according to the report.