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BRAC conference focuses on both downsizing, growth

ATLANTA (AFPN) -- With the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process shutting down 25 major installations and radically realigning 24 others over the next six years, a BRAC conference under way here is focusing on growth as well as downsizing, a defense official said.

"Traditionally when we've done these events, they've been very much closure-focused," said Philip W. Grone, deputy undersecretary of defense for installations and environment. But this conference, he added, also features "a very healthy focus on growth."

This is happening because many areas will gain substantial numbers of uniformed and civilian military employees as the Defense Department realigns its global force posture to transform from a Cold War stance to one geared toward 21st century threats.

More than 900 representatives from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the military services, various state, local and federal agencies and BRAC-affected communities are here to discuss BRAC 2005's ramifications. Mr. Grone said this conference is taking place earlier in the process than similar meetings in previous BRAC rounds, and that it features an unprecedented level of federal interagency representation.

"There are a number of locations around the country that are going to see some fairly important growth coming out of this round of BRAC for a whole variety of reasons," he said. "It's important for those communities to put them in the position where they can help plan for the future, and they have them all here together, giving them access to the federal interagency processes."

Mr. Grone chairs the president's Economic Adjustment Committee, which coordinates federal interagency and intergovernmental assistance. It supports the Defense Economic Adjustment Program and helps communities respond to economic impacts caused by significant defense program changes, including BRAC. Emily Stover DeRocco of the Labor Department and James Yeager of the Commerce Department serve as co-vice chairs. The committee comprises 22 federal agencies.

The EAC meets formally every quarter, Mr. Grone said, but its members work and coordinate EAC issues on an ongoing basis. Nearly all of the 22 federal agencies with a seat on the EAC are here for the BRAC conference, Mr. Grone said.

The 2005 BRAC round differs greatly from previous ones, said Patrick O'Brien, director of DOD's Office of Economic Adjustment. Previous BRAC rounds, he said, dealt largely with huge tracts of property comparable to medium-sized cities.

"This time around, we have a handful of locations like that, but this conference has a customer base that also has many Guard and Reserve facilities that are anywhere from a half-acre to a maybe couple of acres," he said. "And even though they're smaller in size, there are other issues that make them very significant and very important to the community at hand.

"And then when you add the growth piece to this," he said, "that growth piece is going to be an enduring issue for those communities for years to come, simply because you're talking about expanding the capacity of these communities to absorb that growth. And we are affording them the network and the opportunity to start working across themselves -- what's working, what's not -- and basically helping them establish best practices among themselves."

Mr. O'Brien said the conference represents the first opportunity in BRAC 2005 for a forum involving state and local officials, military installations and federal agencies, and for state and local officials to address the impacts of downsizing or mission growth.

"Clearly, the ability to respond to these impacts goes well beyond the Department of Defense. That's why the federal agencies are here," he said. The federal agencies, he added, have come to listen to community leaders and to understand what their needs are, and to offer financial and technical support in meeting those needs.

The federal agencies will work in partnership with state and local officials throughout the process, Mr. O'Brien said.

"That's going to be very important for these communities," he said. "At the end of the day, the resources of our organization -- the Office of Economic Adjustment -- along with the resources of the other federal agencies, have got to be available to help these communities."

Another key aspect of the conference is the opportunity to equip state and local leaders with an understanding of what the military is going to do. They can then put it in a civilian context locally and help DOD carry on its warfighting mission, Mr. O'Brien said.
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