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As military base closures loom, Georgia’s team led by former U.S. naval secretary

Atlanta sold most of Fort McPherson to filmmaker Tyler Perry, who has converted some of the property to studio space. Georgia is preparing to defend other bases from closure in a potential round of base realignment and closure. Credit: Kelly Jordan

By David Pendered

With a round of military base closures possibly on the horizon, Georgia is taking steps to defend its installations. Gov. Brian Kemp has named a former secretary of the Navy to lead the effort.

Atlanta sold most of Fort McPherson to filmmaker Tyler Perry, who has converted some of the property to studio space. Georgia is preparing to defend other bases from closure in a potential round of base realignment and closure. Credit: Kelly Jordan

Metro Atlanta was rocked by the most recent round of base closures, initiated in 2005.

Filmmaker Tyler Perry bought most of Fort McPherson after it was ordered closed and converted it to a studio. Fort Gillem, in Forest Park, was ordered closed and subsequently was sold for redevelopment as a logistics center for e-commerce and warehouse distribution.

Now, the governor is appointing his share of members to the state-created the Georgia Joint Defense Commission. The state Legislature established the panel in 2018 and one of its specific tasks is to:

  • “Serve as a task force to seek advice on and prepare for potential base realignment or closure of military installations in the state;
  • “Develop and implement a plan to navigate potential base realignment or closure of military installations studies and proceedings….”

Kemp named William Ball III to chair the commission. Ball brings a resume of high ranking service on Capitol Hill.

Ball served then President Ronald Reagan as secretary of the navy. Before that, he served in Reagan’s administration as an assistant secretary of state, following his work as Reagan’s liaison to Congress. After the government work, Ball worked in the private sector. Ball is a 1969 graduate of Georgia Tech.

William Ball III

William Ball III

President George H.W. Bush appointed Ball to serve on the 1991 Base Realignment and Closure Commission. During President George W. Bush’s administration, Ball was appointed by then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves, which was charged with advising Congress on transforming the National Guard and Reserves into an operational force.

The time for work by the Georgia Joint Defense Commission may begin soon, after years of no major action on closures.

Congress has had zero interest since 2005 in revisiting base closures and realignment of military resources. The last round cost $14 billion more than $35 billion anticipated, and saved less than expected, a 2012 federal audit showed. Political costs arise as base closures cause civilian job losses and disrupt local economies. Voters can express their thoughts at the ballot box.

However, a little-noted provision of 2019 defense funding act requires the military to produce and deliver a needs-analysis report. The defense act that year was named in honor of John McCain, the former naval aviator, politician and 2008 Republican candidate for president.

gillem logistics center

Forest Park converted the former Fort Gillem into the Gillem Logistics Center after Fort Gillem was closed in the 2005 round of base realignments and closures. Credit: gillemlogisticscenter.com

This law requires the Department of Defense to submit the needs analysis with its budget request for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1. The report was expected in February and hasn’t been mentioned since its initial delay. The matter evidently has been drowned out amid the debate over a proposed second round of federal stimulus to ease the impact of COVID 19 and the presidential election. Nonetheless, the 2019 defense funding act calls for:

  • “A force structure plan for each of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps and the reserve components of each military department that is informed by…
  • “A categorical model of installation capabilities required to carry out the force structures plans described in paragraph (1) based on—
  • “(A) the infrastructure, real property, and facilities capabilities required to carry out such plans; and
  • “(B) the current military requirements of the major military units referred to in subparagraph (B) of such paragraph.”

This requirement appears to be completely absent from the defense act passed by the Senate and now pending in the House. The Senate voted in July to pass a defense funding act that makes no mention of the report. The pending version contains this section:

  • “Sect. 2702. Prohibition on conducting additional base realignment and closure (BRAC) round.
  • “Nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize an additional Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round.”

Meantime, Georgia’s Joint Defense Commission has been constituted to begin preparing the state’s response to any calls for closure or realignment of military installations in the state.

David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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