Special office aids BRAC-affected communities

  • Published
  • By Jim Garamone
  • American Forces Press Service
When a Defense Department installation closes, department officials do not just pull chocks and fly off.

Officials in DOD's office of economic adjustment work with communities to help them through the base closing process and help them transform.

The motto of the office is, "Helping Communities Help Themselves," and the office’s people take that very seriously, said office director Patrick O'Brien.

"We're a field activity under the secretary of defense," he said. "Our mission is to work with communities affected by defense program changes."

People focus on base closures, but the office also helps communities gaining military assets, bases affected by elimination of weapons systems and bases being encroached on by civilian activities.

The organization has been around since the early 1960s.

"When a base closes, often it is a significant economic engine in the community," Mr. O'Brien said. "We work with the communities to develop their capacities and capabilities."

The office is the conduit for defense money and expertise to the affected communities, but it also serves as the bridge for other federal agencies, he said.

A number of federal agencies play in the BRAC process. These include Cabinet members like the Department of Labor, which helps communities with retraining efforts, and the Department of Commerce, which helps communities attract long-term economic development and investment.

But there are other helpers too. The Department of the Interior is often involved in transferring land. The Federal Aviation Administration is involved in helping communities as they seek to reuse air bases. Even the Department of Housing and Urban Development helps communities as they address issues of the homeless.

The office helps communities also as they work with the military services.

"BRAC does not work if the community and the military services are not working closely together regardless of growth or downsizing," Mr. O'Brien said.

Office officials said they learned from past BRAC rounds conducted in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995. Community residents said the first thing they need is for economic office people to get to the communities as soon as they can after the defense secretary announces the BRAC recommendations.

"Basically, when the recommendations are released by the secretary and the communities are ready to receive us, we're ready to go," Mr. O'Brien said.

Community residents also said that representatives need to be realistic.

"Communities said people told them that BRAC is an easy process to work through. It is anything but," he said. "Communities view (the office of economic adjustment) as an honest broker in the process," and they count on the office to deliver a realistic appraisal of what lies ahead for affected communities.

Finally, community residents said they needed more support in looking at the environmental situations at the bases.

The most important thing Mr. O'Brien said he learned over the past four BRAC rounds is that communities span the range of capabilities.

"Some communities have little capacity and require a lot of assistance, and other communities are very sophisticated, and they are looking for a different menu of support," he said. The office, working with the military departments, must tailor approaches to the communities. There is no "one size fits all" in the BRAC process, Mr. O'Brien said.